Lampard must deliver after Chelsea spending spree

LONDON (AFP) – Chelsea coach Frank Lampard is under pressure to deliver a serious Premier League title challenge after a spending spree fuelled by his desire to catch champions Liverpool.

Lampard showed promise in his first season by steering the Blues into the Champions League with a fourth place domestic finish.

But Arsenal exposed the flaws that were visible in Lampard’s side all season with a 2-1 win against their London rivals in the FA Cup final.

Having finished 33 points behind the Reds and 15 adrift of second placed Manchester City last term, the response from the Stamford Bridge hierarchy has been emphatic.

City set the record for the biggest total spend by a Premier League club when Pep Guardiola splashed out GBP223.8 million (USD295 million) ahead of the 2017-18 season.

But Chelsea are on course to shatter that mark.

Chelsea’s manager Frank Lampard. PHOTO: XINHUA

After enduring a transfer ban in the 2019 summer window before failing to sign a single player during the 2020 January market, owner Roman Abramovich sanctioned the kind of money-is-no-object recruitment drive that was commonplace when he first bought the club.

After relying on a cadre of promising youngsters to kick-start his reign, Lampard has prioritised proven talents in the transfer market.

He paid a combined GBP141 million for Leipzig striker Timo Werner, Ajax playmaker Hakim Ziyech and Leicester left-back Ben Chilwell.

The west Londoners are expected to wrap up their GBP90 million swoop for Bayer Leverkusen forward Kai Havertz this week, which would take them past City’s record spree.

Malang Sarr has also arrived on a free transfer after the 21-year-old centre-back left Nice, but he is seen as one for the future and will be sent on loan.

That won’t be the end of Lampard’s overhaul as Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva joined Chelsea for free after leaving Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) following their Champions League final defeat.

Lampard will hope the lavish investment reaps the same rewards for his club as City enjoyed in 2018, when they were crowned champions thanks in large part to the spending of owner Sheikh Mansour.

Chelsea have not won the Premier League since 2017, failing to finish in the top two since then as City and Liverpool established a formidable duopoly.

Klopp’s side will be the team to beat when the new campaign kicks off on September 12 and City can never be discounted while Guardiola is in charge.

But Chelsea are in the title conversation after bringing in so many quality additions.

Now it is up to Lampard to ensure his team fulfil those burgeoning expectations.

Often frustrated by Chelsea’s failure to break down stubborn, defensive opponents last season, Lampard must find a way to harness the talents of Christian Pulisic, Werner and Ziyech in what should be a vibrant front three.

Together with Havertz and Chilwell, those five were involved in a mammoth 131 goals in all competitions for their respective teams last season.

Lampard can also call on Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi to freshen up his attack.

Getting a disparate group of new recruits to gel successfully is no easy task.

But scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem and Lampard will hope Silva and Chilwell can solidify a defence that often conceded far too easily last term.

Chelsea allowed 54 league goals last season, 21 more than Liverpool and 19 more than City.

Chilwell should be an upgrade on Marcos Alonso and Emerson at left-back.

The 35-year-old Silva is expected to provide leadership and experience at the heart of the defence, but it remains to be seen how he adapts to the unique physical demands of the Premier League.

Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, was dropped towards the end of the season, but veteran back-up Willy Caballero is not significantly better than the error-prone Spaniard.