LONDON • Ever since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in June 2003, the Blues have never endured back-to-back trophyless seasons. The Russian is unlikely to entertain that possibility after taking his overall bankroll to £1.8 billion (S$3.2 billion) ahead of the new Premier League season.
The Londoners have been the top flight’s most active buyers in the close season, in stark contrast to a year ago when they were subject to a Fifa transfer ban, giving their youngsters a chance to shine.
Germany striker Timo Werner arrives from RB Leipzig having scored 28 times in the Bundesliga last season, while international teammate Kai Havertz plays like his new manager Frank Lampard in his pomp, with runs from midfield into the box to score. At the other end, England left-back Ben Chilwell and Brazil veteran Thiago Silva, moving from Leicester City and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, should improve a defence that conceded 54 league goals en route to losing 12 games last term. The last time they let in more was in 1997.
Chelsea had already snapped up Morocco winger Hakim Ziyech after he bamboozled them in last season’s Champions League group stage playing for Ajax Amsterdam. Like Werner, his first training session at Cobham was in July, and they have both settled into their new environment.
The chequebook remains out, with the club in talks with Rennes for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.
Lampard is still in the market for a No. 1 to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive stopper, and solve Chelsea’s biggest problem area left.
Senegal international Mendy was a key man in the team who finished third in Ligue One and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history.
“Chelsea aren’t buying a team, they are buying and building a dynasty, which I think is extraordinarily exciting,” former Blues winger Pat Nevin told the BBC.
Last November, Lampard named the youngest Chelsea XI of the Premier League era, with an average age of 24 years and 88 days.
Mason Mount, 21, Fikayo Tomori, 22, Reece James, 20, Tammy Abraham, 22, and Christian Pulisic, 21, were among the starters in their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. And just under half of Chelsea’s goals last season were scored by players 22 or younger.
While those youngsters – with the exception of Pulisic – are no longer certain of getting regular playing time, new signings like Werner, 24, Havertz, 21, Chilwell, 23, and France Under-21 defender Malang Sarr, 21, prove that Chelsea are not just looking at the present but the future too. The question is whether Lampard will remain at the club beyond his current contract, which expires in 2022.
• Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen (£71 million, S$126 million)
• Timo Werner (below) from RB Leipzig (£47.5 million)
• Ben Chilwell from Leicester (£45 million)
• Hakim Ziyech from Ajax (£38 million)
• Thiago Silva from Paris Saint-Germain (free)
• Malang Sarr from Nice (free)
• Alvaro Morata to Atletico Madrid (£58 million)
• Mario Palasic to Atalanta (£13.5 million)
The Blues legend exceeded most people’s expectations in his first campaign as coach at Stamford Bridge by securing a fourth-place finish despite losing star man Eden Hazard to Real Madrid.
Such mitigating factors meant that Lampard was effectively given a free hit last campaign. And while Chelsea qualified for the Champions League, they secured six points fewer than under Maurizio Sarri in 2018-19 and finished 33 points behind champions Liverpool and 15 off second-placed Manchester City.
Chelsea also lost the FA Cup final to Arsenal and went out of the Champions League 7-1 on aggregate in the round of 16 against eventual winners Bayern Munich.
In the Abramovich era, Lampard and Jose Mourinho (2013-14) are the only managers to avoid the sack after failing to deliver a trophy.
I didn’t come in the job to fight for fourth place or bring academy players in, I came here to win. Last year we couldn’t recruit and this year the club have made the decision to bring in players. It changes the landscape and we’re ready to work.
FRANK LAMPARD, Chelsea manager.
Lampard, the club’s record scorer, knows he must aim higher this term and add to the owner’s 16 pieces of major silverware, especially after a near £200 million outlay on new players.
“Frank will be totally aware of the pressure, but that comes with every Chelsea manger,” former Blues striker Tony Cascarino told talkSport. “Chelsea sack managers that have done far more in terms of winning than Frank. OK, not under the same circumstances as Lampard, but he will be totally aware of it. Will he get more time because he’s a legend? No, not now the wiggle room has gone.”
Mourinho, Arteta must juggle Europa League and top-flight commitments on tight budget
LONDON • Tottenham will be experiencing their first season without Champions League football after an uninterrupted four-year spell, but they only need to look across the north London divide to see how difficult it is to get back into the top four.
This will be Arsenal’s fourth successive Europa League campaign and with the gains made by their rivals on top of big-name signings this summer, getting back into that elite group has never been tougher for both Spurs and the Gunners.
And yet Tottenham cannot settle for another sixth-place finish while Arsenal would need to improve on eighth spot – their worst finish since 1995.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hurt Jose Mourinho’s team more than most. Spurs have not been able to fully reap the benefits of their new £1 billion (S$1.77 billion) Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – which opened only in April last year – after last season was disrupted by a three-month stoppage from March.
• Gabriel from Lille (€26 million, S$42.2 million)
• Pablo Mari from Flamengo (€8 million)
• Willian from Chelsea (free)
• Cedric Soares from Southampton (free)
• Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid on loan
• Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Roma (free)
Fans were banned when the English Premier League restarted in June and that will be the case when the new term resumes tomorrow.
While spectators are expected to be allowed back in some time later this year, it will be in restricted numbers. Money is reportedly tight as there is no match-day revenue to contribute to the coffers.
REVIVE GLORY DAYS
I was brought back with the intention to bring the club back where it belongs which is winning trophies.
MIKEL ARTETA, Arsenal manager.
Building on a restricted budget is not something Mourinho is accustomed to, having splurged at previous clubs Chelsea and Manchester United. The Portuguese coach, expected by the Spurs hierarchy to deliver trophies, has to evolve from being a “chequebook manager”, given Spurs’ current financial standing, to one that works with what he has at his disposal.
He has already brought in Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for modest sums, but he will have to sell before making new additions.
• Matt Doherty from Wolves (£15 million)
• Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Southampton (£15 million)
• Joe Hart from Burnley (free)
• Kyle Walker-Peters to Southampton (£12 million)
• Jan Vertonghen to Benfica (free)
Despite missing a big part of last season with injury, Harry Kane was still their top scorer in the top flight with 18 goals in 29 appearances and Mourinho will be counting on the England skipper to keep the club in the top-six mix.
There will be more wheeling and dealing before the transfer window closes next month, but should they fail to get reinforcements, the Spurs boss must somehow revitalise Dele Alli.
The midfielder did not start their last seven games last season and was dropped by England for their Nations League games, and it is a concern with the club already carrying a passenger in club-record buy Tanguy Ndombele.
THE EXPERIENCED ONE
I am not impulsive any more. I am more in control of my emotions. I think better, decide better. I think a coach, the older you get, there’s an accumulation of experience.
JOSE MOURINHO, Tottenham manager.
Like Mourinho, Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta has mostly kept his powder dry in the market – only Gabriel has arrived for a decent fee.
While there has been some talk of a big-name buy like Thomas Partey or Houssem Aouar, it has been reported the Gunners are in a similar financial predicament, and will first need to trim the squad.
There are signs, though, that captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may extend his deal, which has less than a year to run. That would be a confidence-booster, especially after Arsenal lost former top scorers Alexis Sanchez and Robin van Persie when in similar positions.
Willian’s capture could also end up being a shrewd move, with his nine league goals the previous campaign more than double all of Arsenal’s central midfielders combined.
In winning the FA Cup and the Community Shield, Arteta has repaid the faith of the club’s hierarchy when they appointed him despite his lack of experience, and he must kick on in his first full term.
The players also seem to have bought into his philosophy, which does not deviate from Arsenal’s attacking ethos, while being more organised than his predecessors.
Willian said at his signing: “They have a new project with Mikel. This club deserves to shine again and I want to be a part of this project.”
Yet the overriding theme of that project is rebuilding, and both Arsenal and Spurs are in the same boat.
It would not come as a surprise if both clubs prioritise the Europa League come the tail-end of the season, as winning the competition, which entails Champions League football, may be an easier prospect than a top-four finish.
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