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Chelsea: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

Blues fans turned on Maurizio Sarri midway through last season but the Italian still managed to steer them to a third-placed finish and Europa League glory. Now Frank Lampard is back at the Bridge but with a transfer ban tying one hand behind his back, it may be a transitional season under the prodigal son.

Last season's Premier League finish: 3rd - (W21 D9 L8 - F63 A39 - Pts 72)

Last season's top scorer: Eden Hazard - 16 (21 in all competitions)

To finish in the top four*: 11/10

First five fixtures: Manchester United (A), Leicester (H), Norwich (A), Sheffield United (H), Wolves (A)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 5th

Predicted finish by The Script: 4th

Transfers in: Mateo Kovacic - Real Madrid (£40m), Christian Pulisic - Borussia Dortmund (end of loan)

Transfers out: Eden Hazard - Real Madrid (£88.5m), Ola Aina - Torino (£9m), Tomas Kalas - Bristol City (£8m), David Luiz - Arsenal (£8m), Kasey Palmer - Bristol City (£3.5m), Ethan Ampadu - RB Leipzig (loan), Matt Miazga - Reading (loan), Eduardo - Braga (free), Lewis Baker - Fortuna Dusseldorf (loan), Rob Green - retired, Todd Kane - QPR (free), Gary Cahill - released, Fankaty Dabo - Coventry (free), Nathan Baxter - Ross County (loan), Brad Collins - Barnsley (free), Jay Dasilva - Bristol City (undisclosed), Richard Nartey - Burton (loan), Mario Pasalic - Atalanta (loan extended), Charly Musonda - Vitesse (loan), Alvaro Morata - Atletico Madrid (loan extended), Marcin Bulka - PSG (undisclosed), Nathan - Atletico Mineiro (loan extended), Daishawn Redan - Hertha BSC (£2.3m), Luke McCormick - Shrewsbury (loan), Jake Clarke-Salter - Birmingham (loan), Kyle Scott - Newcastle (free), Dujon Sterling - Wigan (loan), Jacob Maddox - Tranmere (loan), Izzy Brown - Luton (loan), Trevor Chalobah - Huddersfield (loan), Josh Grant - Plymouth (loan), Danny Drinkwater - Burnley (loan)

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Reasons to be optimistic

The return of one of Stamford Bridge’s favourite sons instantly brings the feel-good factor back to Chelsea.

If the welcome Frank Lampard received as a visiting manager with Derby last season is anything to go by, their first home match against Leicester will be a memorable occasion. Even in pre-season matches in Ireland, Japan, Austria and Germany, the reception has been raucous.

Chelsea supporters have been crying out for a less rigid style of play and for a coach to give their academy products a chance. Lampard’s Derby played some attractive football last season and Chelsea’s transfer ban represents the perfect opportunity for him to finally blood some of the youngsters.

England caps Callum Hudson-Odoi (once he’s returned from injury) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek can expect to play key roles under Lampard, while the slightly older Ross Barkley’s renaissance is set to continue.

Chelsea’s controversial system of farming out hordes of players on loan could prove their saving grace. Reece James, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount will push for minutes, the latter two having played under Lampard at Pride Park last season.

The new coach will surely learn from Maurizio Sarri’s mistake and deploy his best player, N’Golo Kante, in his best position – in front of the back four. The permanent arrival of loanee Mateo Kovacic, set to play alongside Kante, is the only purchase Chelsea are permitted to make this summer.

Still, the return of young playmaker Christian Pulisic, bought from Borussia Dortmund for £58m in January and loaned straight back the Bundesliga club, will feel like a new signing. There will be considerable intrigue surrounding the prodigiously gifted American, who will be desperate to kick on after struggling for consistency in Germany last term.

Olivier Giroud, meanwhile, will relish pushing for a role as the Blues’ main striker after impressing in their victorious Europa League campaign. The returning Michy Batshuayi and Abraham, who has featured heavily in pre-season, will provide competition up front. 

Chelsea have developed a reputation as a club who can still win trophies amid apparent internal dysfunction. Lampard’s presence should at the very least act as a unifying factor between the board and the supporters. Fans will hope this season is the big first step on the long road to stability.

Reasons to be fearful ​

It's hard to avoid the sense that Chelsea were a one-man team at times last season. Eden Hazard’s 16 league goals won 13 points for the Blues and propelled them to a respectable third-placed finish.

With Hazard now in the white shirt of Real Madrid, the Blues are relying on Pulisic, who scored just four times in the Bundesliga last season, to step up and replace a significant portion of those goals. 

Some of Chelsea’s key senior players are beginning to show signs of decline - Pedro and Willian among them. So Lampard, in just his second season in management, really will be banking on a number of the kids to deliver. The departure of David Luiz to rivals Arsenal leaves Chelsea light of experience at the back.

The likes of James, Tomori and Mount thrived in the Championship but will have to follow a periliously steep upward curve to be ready for Chelsea’s opening game of the season against Manchester United at Old Trafford on 11 August.

Lampard knows better than most how this usually plays out. The club’s record goalscorer played under nine different coaches in his 13 seasons spent in west London. “I am a realist and I don’t want any favours,” he insisted when asked about the managerial turnover at Stamford Bridge.

His appointment suggests the trigger-happy days are over in west London in what chairman Roman Abramovich surely expects to be a season of rebuilding.

But if Chelsea find themselves in the bottom half of the table in January, for instance, then don’t rule out the Russian reverting to type. Abramovich, though, knows only too well that sacking Lampard could obliterate the relatonship between the club and supporters. Would he be willing to take that risk?

Key man: Christian Pulisic

It may be premature to call Pulisic Chelsea’s key man before he’s kicked a competitive ball in anger for the club. But the size of the boots he’ll be filling at Stamford Bridge means there’ll be no honeymoon period.

Hazard scored or assisted in 31 of Chelsea’s goals last season. At 49% of their total, that was easily the highest proportion of any player in the division.

With both Pedro and Willian north of 30 and Hudson-Odoi injured for the start of the season, the task of filling the considerable void left by Hazard will mostly fall on Pulisic’s shoulders.

At just 20 years old it’s a big ask for Pulisic to hit the ground running right away, especially after a summer spent with his country during their run to the Gold Cup final. But if Chelsea are to hold on to their Champions League place, he’ll need to.

The manager: Frank Lampard

Have we mentioned that Lampard is Chelsea’s new manager? The prodigal son’s return, alongside fan favourite Jody Morris as assistant, has put smlies on back on fans' faces all the way down King’s Road.

Lampard was the populist choice and an emotional appointment. But it was not necessarily an irrational one.

If uniting the fanbase behind one coach is the aim, then installing Lampard as the figurehead of Chelsea’s new era has done the job, even if it feels very premature for a man with just one season of managerial experience.

It’s hard to glean much from his time at Derby that feels relevant. The Rams started well, tailed off in the middle and rallied late on to finish sixth before eventual defeat in the Championship play-off final.

Lampard switched between either 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 and set out to dominate possession. The coach also displayed his adaptability, notably in the play-off semi-final second leg at Elland Road when his side conceded the ball to Leeds and hit them on the counter to great effect. That will please Chelsea fans desperate for some excitement after the dull predictability of Sarri’s 4-3-3. 

But it’s not much to go by. Asked about his lack of experience, the man himself admitted that he “thought about it a lot” before accepting the job. He’ll hope to ride the wave of positivity into a successful season but there remain a lot of sceptics - Lampard is odds-on with bookmakers not to last the season.

Fans' view - Neil Barrett - Official Bedford and Rushden Chelsea Supporters

"It’s going be harder next season, even with Lampard in. Abramovich says he wants a top-four finish but I can’t see that happening.

"It wasn’t a disaster last season considering we finished above Arsenal and Manchester United and also won a trophy. But the football we played under Sarri was just awful.

"The fans want a higher quality of football – moving the ball faster and playing with more ruthlessness in front of goal.

"Lampard is not my first choice. I’d have preferred someone with more experience but he does understand the club. We lacked a leader last season on the pitch and hopefully he can provide that leadership we need from the touchline.

"I’m hoping he is forced to play the kids because of the transfer ban but I can see it being a struggle. It’s a big step up from playing in the Championship to playing against the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool and the youngsters need time to adapt.

"What worries me is we could be in the bottom third at Christmas and then Lampard might find himself under serious pressure, pressure that the club has shown they usually buckle under.

"Of course we will miss Hazard but we missed Lampard, we missed Didier Drogba and we missed Gianfranco Zola when they left.

"I just hope to see a Chelsea we can recognise next season. A top-four finish and any cup would be a very successful season but to be honest I’d be surprised if we make the Europa League places. Let’s hope I’m wrong!"

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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