Ahead of the short trip across London, TEB had a chat with Andrew at CHELSEA EXTRA to get view on last season, hopes for the new campaign, thoughts on the game and much more.
Q. Now that the dust has settled on a lengthy 2019/20 campaign, how are you feeling about the new season?
I think all Chelsea fans, including myself, are very optimistic about the new season. It’s hard not to be. Last season, we had a real problem with breaking down stubborn defensive teams and often required three or four clear cut chances to find the back of the net. We also had serious problems when it came to defending set pieces and crosses into the box. With the signings of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva it feels like we’ve addressed a lot of these problems. Our attack going forward should be pretty potent and it’s hard to not to be excited for what is to come. I am a bit concerned about some of Lampard’s in game decisions in recent weeks but I think he’s due some leeway due to all of our fitness issues that we’ve had and the lack of options in the squad.
I think the aim for us going into this season will be to close the gap between us and Liverpool, while also challenging for some domestic silverware. Obviously, the main stumbling block for us will be how quickly the new signings can adapt to the Premier League and how long it will take for them to gel as a team. I imagine that despite our slow start, we will only get better as the season goes on.
Q. Looking back, how did Chelsea do last season and were you happy with it in general?
Last season handed Frank Lampard and Chelsea some very challenging circumstances but fundamentally, the goal at Chelsea will always be at minimum top four and challenging for trophies. Last season we achieved that so in my view it was a successful season. It would have been better if we could have finished things off with an FA Cup win but it can’t take away from what was a successful first league campaign without Eden Hazard. It was also great to see players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and several others make the step up to the first team. A lot of people outside Chelsea have said that these players would be out the door the minute that big name players come in but I think this couldn’t be further from the truth. These players are in the starting 11 and squad on merit and definitely have the quality to remain an important part of the team.
Q. How have Chelsea made the best of the shortened close season and how much of an effect do you think it will have on the season ahead?
I don’t think that we have made the best of it as it was an impossible situation for us, as it likely was for many teams. The Champions League mini tournament and international fixtures really haven’t done us any favours and as a result we only managed to fit in one full pre-season game before the Premier League started. We also have had several issues with injuries and players having to quarantine before joining up with the squad. As a result, Pulisic, Chilwell and Ziyech all missed the start of the season and at the time of me writing this still aren’t fully fit. Others are having to regain fitness during the season and have essentially been in “pre season mode” for the first few weeks of the league. As far as how it will affect our season, it will of course make it more difficult but that’s just what the team will have to get through during this period.
As I said earlier, I’m expecting us to get stronger as the season goes on. It’s very frustrating for us to spend so much and bring in so many top players, but still be starting the like of Marcos Alonso in our opening three league matches. For me, it’s just important that we still manage to get results during this difficult period for our squad, even with limited options.
Q. Have Chelsea beem very active in the transfer window and are there any areas that still need attention before it closes?
We’ve had one of the best transfer windows in the history of our club. The only one that I can think of that comes close in when Roman Abramovich initially took over. We’ve addressed so many glaring issues in our squad but it’s important to remember that although it might not seem like it, we are in the middle of a three year project and we won’t fix every issue in one transfer window. As well as players coming in, we need Lampard and the management team to keep improving as well.
Despite this, the one position that Chelsea will likely look to strengthen before the window closes is in central midfield. It’s no secret that Lampard wants a sitting defensive midfield player to allow him to play with two attacking ‘number 8’s’ and have the full backs bombing forward. It seems like the most likely option to fill this need will be Declan Rice but I don’t think it’s nailed on to happen just yet. Personally, I’m not totally convinced that the signing is needed. I think it’s the manager’s job to try and adapt his system to fit the profile of player that we currently have at the club and I’m not sure that Rice offers much that Kante can’t provide. But if Lampard is dead set on the style of play then Rice will probably be the best (and most likely) option.
Q. What can we expect from Chelsea this season?
I think you can expect Chelsea to be much less vulnerable at the back than last season. It might not seem like it after shipping three goals to West Brom but our defensive shape has looked a lot better in the new season. Christensen and Zouma are finding good form, Anthony Barry has been brought in as a new member of the backroom staff to work on our defensive shape and Thiago Silva’s leadership should help us with set pieces. Crucially, Ben Chilwell will move Alonso out of the team which will give us better balance going forward and some much-needed physicality in our back line. I’d also expect our new goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, to help us massively with set pieces. He is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe when it comes to collecting crosses, which can only be a positive.
I would also expect Chelsea to be a lot more clinical in attack. Last season we underperformed our expected goals by more than ten. Out of our new signings, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech are all very potent in front of goal and should improve this statistic. I’m hoping to see us take advantage from more opportunities outside the box as well.
As well as player improvements, I’m hoping to see improvements from Lampard. He has a fantastic vision for where he wants to take us and has done a great job but his game management often leaves a lot to be desired. Last season his substitutions were often poor and would cost us in games. He also has a frustrating tendency to totally freeze out players from the squad for weeks or months, before bringing them back in. Presumably he’s picked this trait up from Mourinho. It’s just frustrating as it prevents the team from building chemistry and learning to play together, especially in the back line. I’m hoping to see this improve as he manages more games and becomes a more experienced coach. Recent additions to the coaching team could also help this.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the Chelsea first eleven?
The young player that I’m expecting most from this season is Callum Hudson-Odoi. He’s had a really tough time over the past year or so due to that horrible Achilles injury he picked up at the end of the 18/19 season but I firmly believe he is the most talented player we have produced at Cobham since John Terry. I feel like sometimes fans don’t appreciate how long it takes for players to fully recover, both physically and mentally, from a serious Achilles injury and some people have written him off. I’m expecting to see him prove a lot of doubters wrong this season and get some good minutes in the first team.
Another one to keep an eye on could be Lewis Bate. He’s a 17 year old central midfield player with a great eye for a pass and a very well rounded skillset. He has been looking very impressive with the youth teams over the past couple of seasons and has been training with the first team since the restart of football after COVID. Last month he played in our pre-season friendly against Brighton. I’m hoping to see him get a few games in the cup competition and maybe even some Premier League minutes.
Q. Let’s have some predictions from you for the season;
Premier League Champions – Liverpool
I was a bit torn between them and City but I’m expecting the strong teams of last season to stay strong. Thiago will give Liverpool that little bit of extra quality in midfield and I don’t see anyone being able to topple them this season.
Champions League spots – Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Tottenham
I’m expecting Chelsea to close the gap this season but I don’t think we are ready to win a title just yet. Elsewhere, I think Jose Mourinho has been building a really decent squad under the radar. They’ve massively improved their full backs, Hojbjerg will add tenacity in that midfield and Gareth Bale could be the missing link in that front line alongside Kane and Son. I’m expecting it to be tight, with teams like Leicester and Arsenal looking strong, but I think that front three might be enough to push them into the Champions League spaces.
Relegated – Fulham, West Brom, Burnley
Always hard to predict early on but I can see Fulham and West Brom being relegated. Both are well organised sides with a bit of potential but I think they just lack the quality to keep them safe. The third team to go down is really hard to call but I’m going to with Burnley. Sean Dyche is a good manager but Jeff Hendrick and (potentially) James Tarkowski are massive losses for them. If their replacements don’t step up quickly then it could be a hard season for them.
Surprise package – Aston Villa
I’ve been impressed with their business so far. They’ve got themselves a natural goal scorer in Ollie Watkins, have added quality out wide to support Jack Grealish and have got themselves a top goalkeeper in Emi Martinez. Expecting big things from them this season.
FA Cup – Chelsea
Winning a trophy will be one Lampard’s main objectives this season and I think we’ll be really going for the FA Cup. Lampard always plays a really strong team in the FA Cup and we will be taking it very seriously this season.
League Cup – Manchester City
Pep loves a league cup, doesn’t he? He will definitely be looking to retain this trophy and probably win a couple of others. I’m hoping to be wrong on this one but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mourinho and Tottenham making a real push for this one as well. Mourinho always likes to win a League Cup with his new team early on and given Tottenham’s recent record with trophies, he will be especially keen.
Q. What are your thoughts on the return of fans to games this season?
It’s so important that it happens soon. Football isn’t the same without fans and I for one, can’t wait for the chance to get back to Stamford Bridge. It’s especially important though for the lower leagues and the teams who rely on matchday income. I can’t begin to image the damage that the lack of fans is doing to them. Obviously, we have to wait for it be safe to do so, but we need to get fans back into stadiums. There is only so much terribly canned crowd noise we can take as collective fans of football.
Q. What do you make of Palace ahead of the new season?
I’ve watched all three of Palace’s league games so far and I’ve been quite impressed. I think you are building a good squad. Keeping Zaha will obviously be the most important thing as we come toward the end of the window but bringing in a great talent in Eze should help ease the creative burden on him. Jordan Ayew is a very underrated player and Batshuayi should also chip in with some goals once he gets back up the speed.
Roy Hodgson isn’t exactly a flashy manager and I can see why some fans were frustrated with him at times last season but he seems to get job done in the Premier League. I’d expect Palace to stay up comfortably this season and maybe push towards top ten if things go well. I would also guess that fans are happy to see young players like Tyrick Mitchell get playing time at left back.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
Chelsea – Kai Havertz
He was a little bit quite in his first couple of games being used out wide but since being brought into that number 10 position he’s been at the centre of all of our attacks. I can see him being crucial in breaking down a tough Palace side. He’s such an elegant player on the ball and I can see him becoming one of the best the league over the next few season.
Crystal Palace – Wilfred Zaha
Although he’s not the only danger man, I would expect that Zaha will be at the centre of anything Palace create against Chelsea. He’s historically always caused Chelsea problems and he might find some joy against our full backs if he isolates them 1v1. He also seems to be really good at occupying defenders and opening up space for other creative players like Eze, Townsend etc to get into the game.
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace.
I’m expecting a tight game, especially considering Crystal Palace’s great pre-season and new signings but I think our extra quality up front should be enough for us to get the win.