Frank Lampard’s Magnificent Seven
With the Premier League kicking off for the 2020/21 season this weekend, Chelsea come into the first batch of fixtures having spent significantly in the transfer window thus far. Jack Donnelly takes a look at all seven of the new arrivals, judging how each new member of the team will fit into Frank Lampard’s plans and what it could mean for their contemporaries.
After no incomings in their last two transfer windows due to FIFA’s imposed transfer ban, many expected Chelsea to return to the market with serious intent and purpose, but none expected the extent in which they’ve gone about their business this year. Frank Lampard has brought in no less than seven new faces ahead of the 2020/21 season, with a number of key areas for improvement being addressed. For the first time in recent memory, it seems as though the Chelsea board is backing their manager and Lampard himself has had a heavy involvement in various stages of these transfers, with a number of the new additions citing the chance to work under the club legend as a key factor in their decision to move to west London.
With so many new faces around Cobham, and plenty more returning from loan spells across the globe, a lot of questions are being asked as to how Lampard will be able to fit everyone into his plans for this season. I’ll be taking a look at each of Chelsea’s new signings, evaluating how each player will fit into the squad for the upcoming season, and what their arrival could mean for other players vying for their position.
£36 million* from Ajax, February 2020
Lampard’s first recruit was a man who played at Stamford Bridge last season, albeit for Ajax in the Champions League. Chelsea fans who watched that hectic 4-4 draw in November will be hoping that Ziyech performs like that on a regular basis for his new club, as he assisted the Amsterdam club’s second goal before scoring a sublime freekick for their third of the evening.
The Moroccan playmaker is versatile enough to be able to play anywhere across an attacking line but, following the departures of veterans Willian and Pedro, it’s almost guaranteed that Ziyech will spend most of his time as the right prong of Lampard’s attacking trident. The 27-year-old thrives on the right flank, being equally capable of cutting inside and unleashing a strike towards goal or, alternatively, delivering an inch-perfect diagonal pass to the back post for onrushing attackers to capitalise on. These passes will seem familiar to Premier League defenders, with Kevin de Bruyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold often favouring a back-post delivery, but that doesn’t mean Ziyech’s will be any less deadly. Chelsea fans have already seen such a pass reap rewards for them, as Ziyech delivered such a pass to an unmarked Callum Hudson-Odoi in Chelsea’s 1-1 preseason draw with Brighton, allowing the teenage winger to nod the ball into the path of Timo Werner, with the striker finishing the move off in style.
Without a great deal of depth on the right wing, Ziyech looks to have his place in Lampard’s starting XI nailed on for the season – fans will just have to hope that the man they called the Wizard of Amsterdam can produce the same magic this season.
£47 million* from RB Leipzig, June 2020
This transfer may go down as one of the most well received among Chelsea fans in recent memory. After the realisation that his imminent move to Liverpool was becoming less and less likely, Chelsea essentially took the money they received from Atletico Madrid for the chronically-misfiring Alvaro Morata and reinvested it immediately, paying RB Leipzig the desired fee that brought Timo Werner to England as expected, but to a more unexpected final destination. For Chelsea fans; they’d seemingly swooped in and snatched the player out from under Liverpool’s nose and, as would later be discovered, had Manchester City try and fail to dress Werner in a different shade of blue. For the neutral, Chelsea added something that they lacked often last season – a consistent and lethal goal scorer.
Werner leaves his old club after becoming their record goal scorer in his final match, scoring a brace in a victory over Augsburg to take him to 95 goals in 159 appearances. Aside from his scoring credentials, Werner is well known for his speed, his awareness and his direct approach to football – if the 24-year-old is running towards an opposing defence, the striker is using his brain to be one step ahead, leading to a higher likelihood of a chance being created for himself or his team. This approach, coupled with his pace, has seen him deployed as a winger in support of a different kind of striker. Capable on either flank, Werner would more commonly appear on the left-hand side of the pitch than the right in support of a taller, more physical striker such as Youssef Poulsen. With Lampard already having two strikers in a similar mould in Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud, Werner could well be tested on the left, although sacrificing Christian Pulisic’s place in the process.
Due to the American’s importance towards the end of Chelsea’s league campaign last season, I can’t see Werner starting anywhere but through the middle, instantly overtaking both Abraham and Giroud in the fight for a starting place. I’m intrigued to see how Lampard’s alternative options react to Werner’s arrival – I think Giroud will go about business as usual, having been happy to receive an extended run-out during Project Restart. Abraham on the other hand… he poses more questions. Of all the academy graduates to break through into the first team last season, Abraham has notably been the only one not to commit to a long-term contract and with it becoming increasingly difficult for him to nail down a starting spot, he’ll have to rise to the challenge and grapple with Werner for a run in the team. Otherwise, he may well be looking for guaranteed play time elsewhere. As for Michy Batshuayi… the less said about him, the better.
Joined the Academy from Barcelona, August 2020
The least talked about signing of the seven, Mbuyamba flew under the radar for most. After all, the media were more heavily focussed on Chelsea’s senior incomings but outlets like Sky Sports did make note of this particular acquisition.
The 18-year-old defender previously trained with Chelsea for a week, before settling on a move to Barcelona’s famous La Masia Academy just last year. The Dutchman has – almost predictably – received many comparisons to the Premier League’s own Virgil van Dijk, with the 6-foot-5 centre back being equally as cool in possession and as powerful in the air as Liverpool’s defensive catalyst.
Turning 19 in December, I can’t imagine that Mbuyamba would be anywhere near the first team, at least not until the very end of the season, or unless there’s a favourable cup tie in the calendar. That being said, Lampard isn’t afraid to try something new with his squad and considering how shaky and inconsistent Chelsea’s defence was last season, first-team involvement isn’t entirely out of the question. He’s certainly one to keep an eye on in years to come and should he turn out anything like van Dijk, Chelsea will have gotten themselves an absolute steal.
£45 million* from Leicester, August 2020
It seemed inevitable that Chelsea would be in the market for a left back in this window – there were far too many instances to count in which Marcos Alonso or Emerson were completely outclassed last season. Realistically, Chelsea haven’t truly found a replacement for Ashley Cole, who left for Roma in 2014.
After a number of different experiments involving players like Baba Rahman and Filipe Luis, Alonso arrived and was excellent under Antonio Conte as a wing back. Emerson arrived a year later but through the second and final year of Conte’s reign, results dried up and things didn’t improve much under Maurizio Sarri. Last season, Lampard couldn’t seem to settle on which one of the two should start in an already inconsistent backline. However, for the forthcoming season, Lampard seems to have found his starter, thanks in big part to Roman Abramovich’s chequebook.
Ben Chilwell arrives after a solid couple of seasons at Leicester, in which he made his debut for England and solidified himself as Gareth Southgate’s starting left back. For Lampard, he comes in with the same attacking mindset that seems to reside in Alonso – the mindset that saw Chilwell register three goals and three assists last season. Lampard is supposedly looking for a greater attacking contribution from his full backs this season, with Chilwell’s pace and precision passing impressive enough to see him earn a move to West London. Admittedly, Chilwell has to prove himself – in many instances last season, he was left exposed in one-on-one situations and was quite reserved in defence. Hopefully, with the addition of Anthony Barry to Chelsea’s coaching staff, Chilwell’s defensive duties improve to match his attacking input.
Aside from a starting left back, this transfer brings about an overabundance of players in the position. Quite simply, one of Alonso and Emerson will almost certainly be taking their leave from Stamford Bridge. Personally, I see Emerson as being the more likely of the two to move on. Alonso’s capability as a wing back would allow Lampard to comfortably retain the 3-4-3 as an option throughout the season – Emerson’s sub-par performances in this system don’t bode well for his Chelsea future. Despite this, Lampard will enter the new season with all three names on the books, as Chilwell is still regaining fitness following a heel injury suffered at the beginning of July. Once he becomes available, Chelsea will have a left back to rely on for this season and many more to come.
Free transfer from Nice, August 2020
This transfer was a very interesting one, considering it seemed to come from absolutely nothing. At the time that the rumours began to circulate, Chelsea were focussing on another centre back (who’ll be mentioned soon) but talks progressed quickly and Malang Sarr found himself contracted to the West London club.
To me, this transfer is low-risk, high reward. Sarr came in after his Nice contract expired, allowing Chelsea to use their cash on other incomings. Despite only being 21 years old, Sarr has plenty of experience under his belt. Since the 2016/17 season, only three players (aged 21 and under) have played more league games than Sarr, who’s 102 games are only bested by Kylian Mbappe (106) and, coincidentally, Christian Pulisic (106) and Kai Havertz (116). The French defender has also represented his country at every level from under-16s to under-21s, captaining his under-18 side along the way and appearing at the 2019 Under-21 Euros.
The left-footed defender has had experience at playing on the left of a back three, as well as at left back, so is capable of providing cover. However, this season, Sarr will join the plentiful ranks of Chelsea’s Loan Army, getting a year out on loan before returning with the intention to slot into a starting spot. If he impresses out on loan, Sarr will provide the likes of Fikayo Tomori and Ethan Ampadu with competition for the long-term starting spot at centre back. If not, Chelsea can move him on and get a profit regardless of the fee. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out but considering that Sarr has been linked with top clubs around Europe for a number of years, I can imagine he’ll be in London for a while yet.
Free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, August 2020
This is the man that Malang Sarr will be looking to replace when he returns from loan. Signed on a one-year deal (with an option for an extension), Thiago Silva joined for the club just days after captaining Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in which the Brazilian defender was one of the French club’s outstanding performers in a 1-0 loss to the German giants.
Silva has been one of the top defenders in Europe for well over a decade, joining AC Milan in December 2008 for a fee of €10 million. As he couldn’t be registered for the current season, Silva wouldn’t play a competitive match for Milan until the 2009/10 season. He used his time off to learn everything he could from his contemporaries at the club, namely Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta. After just a season, his teammates were purring about him, with compatriot Alexandre Pato claiming he’d go on to be “the best defender in the world.”
Silva spent eight years with PSG, winning everything he possibly could in his time at the club, with the exception of the Champions League. Internationally, Silva has been involved with the Brazil set up since 2008 and, at 35 years old, he isn’t done yet. Having captained club and country for close to a decade, Silva brings leadership and pedigree to Chelsea’s defence, not to mention pure quality.
Comfortable on the ball, powerful in the air and effortless in the tackle, Silva’s arrival at Stamford Bridge should bring reassurance to a fanbase and a manager that saw their defence struggle to maintain any sort of consistency throughout last season. Despite his age, Silva is motivated and ready for the challenge of the Premier League as he looks to cement his place in Brazil’s World Cup squad for 2022 – by which time, he’ll be 38 years old.
While almost everyone involved with Chelsea will celebrate the arrival of O Monstro, his centre back colleagues will feel the added challenge of his arrival – if Silva is a guaranteed starter, who’s his partner? With Tomori more and more likely to go out on loan, this leaves Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andres Christensen to duke it out for the second starting spot. All three were tested at various points throughout last season, with Zouma tending to yield the most positive feedback, but there’s no guarantee that the starting place will go to the Frenchman.
Regardless of who plays alongside him, Silva could well be regarded as one of the biggest bargains of the season. Truthfully, if he makes Chelsea’s defence look even the slightest bit better than it did last season, he should be celebrated.
£72 million* from Bayer Leverkusen, September 2020
This transfer has been talked about since the start of the summer. Even while the Project Restart games were being played, the Chelsea hierarchy were pushing to get this deal done. Rival fans, pundits and journalists initially questioned the signing, not being certain as to why the club were pursuing a player in a position in which they had plenty of options to choose from. To put it simply, when a player of Kai Havertz’s quality is within your reach, you grab the opportunity with both hands. And Chelsea did.
Havertz has spent the entirety of his professional career thus far at Bayer Leverkusen, having joined the club’s academy as an 11-year-old. Advancing through the ranks quickly, Havertz was drafted into the first team in 2016, becoming the club’s youngest ever Bundesliga debutant after coming off the bench against Werder Bremen. Havertz also went on to become the club’s youngest ever goalscorer towards the end of the 2016/17 season, after netting against Wolfsburg in April. The midfielder became a bona fide member of the first team in the 2017/18, but it wasn’t until the 2018/19 season that the world realised just how good the youngster was.
Havertz registered the highest scoring season for a teenager in the Bundesliga after scoring 17 goals in 34 games – a goal every other match. The then 19-year-old narrowly missed out on the German Football of the Year award and went on to have another impressive season in 2019/20, scoring 18 goals in all competitions.
Havertz can bring a multitude of different aspects to Chelsea’s midfield. Firstly, he’s a natural goal scorer. Capable of finishing chances from various different angles and distances in numerous different ways gives Chelsea the chance to build – and finish – from midfield effectively. The German international is also adept at starting quick, fluid moves that allow he and his teammates to waltz through opposition defences, with Havertz either supplying the final ball or scoring himself. At 6’2, the midfielder boasts aerial presence like no one else in Chelsea’s midfield and under Peter Bosz at Leverkusen, he took on more defensive duties as he used his speed and intelligence to press opponents quickly after losing the ball in an effort to regain possession. As it stands, there isn’t much that Havertz can’t do. Both his technical ability and physicality are excellent and as a midfielder of his build, learning from Lampard will only further his ability.
As for where he’ll fit in at Chelsea, Havertz will most likely slot in alongside a partner in Lampard’s three-man midfield. While he does have experience of playing out on the right wing, he should only be used there in an emergency situation, as his dynamism is much better suited to his usual midfield role. The players most likely to feel threatened by Havertz’s arrival would be Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. N’golo Kante and Jorginho would be more likely to play the deeper role in the midfield three, whereas the four aforementioned players are all more attacking. For me, I’d be interested to see how Havertz and Mount would play together. While Kovacic was named as Chelsea’s Player of the Year last season, his goal contributions were minimal and if Lampard is looking to get goals from his midfield alongside his forward line, Mount and Havertz would make the most sense together. What this means for Barkley and Loftus-Cheek is uncertain, as both would realistically be looking to play regular football – dropping further down the pecking order is the last thing they would want.
Either way, Havertz is a truly exciting addition to the Premier League and if he can consistently produce performances like those in the Bundesliga, Chelsea may well have one of the top players in the world in a few years’ time.
The Season Ahead
With six first team additions arriving at Cobham this summer, Chelsea are making a serious case for trophies this season – and it seems as though the West London club aren’t done yet. It seems that Edouard Mendy of Rennes will join the club imminently to battle Kepa for the starting keeper role, while the club seem to be continuing their pursuit of Declan Rice. That being said, securing Rice’s services will be no easy task, with West Ham insistent on keeping their man at the London Stadium this season. Regardless of whether or not there are any more new additions, Lampard has done excellently in this window and has addressed a number of areas that concerned the club last season. However, the pressure is now on the club legend to produce the results this season – last season, he was allowed a grace period due to the transfer ban but now that he’s spent plenty of Abramovich’s money, the performances and results need to improve. Otherwise, Chelsea’s revolving door of management may claim another victim.
*all fees taken from transfermarkt.co.uk as of 9th September 2020