Even before the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary stop to the season, this had been a rollercoaster ride of a campaign for Chelsea fans.
A golden run of form in the autumn had been followed by a tough spell in the winter, and 2020 has already brought more than its share of ups and downs. Big wins over Tottenham and Liverpool have been balanced by disappointing losses to Newcastle and Bayern Munich, with the latter result in particular having all-but-ended their Champions League campaign.
But given the pessimism among pundits about their chances at the start of the season, the Blues are approaching the business end of the season in a strong position to confirm a top four spot, and with a continuing interest in the FA Cup. They certainly have plenty to play for when football resumes, hopefully by the start of June. So what can we expect from Frank Lampard’s men?
The bookies remain divided. Some are making the Blues a short price to secure a top four place and top tier 888sport football have placed these odds on the Blues season. But there is still plenty of work to be done if that is to be achieved, and it will be vital for Chelsea to hit the ground running.
Of their nine remaining Premier League fixtures, two stand out as particularly tough: the games away to Liverpool and at home to Manchester City, although Lampard will be hopeful given that Jurgen Klopp’s side had gone off the boil when the season was interrupted, with the Premier League title virtually sewn up. He may also feel optimistic about getting something out of the City game as last year’s Premier League winners will be focusing mainly on the Champions League.
And there are some easier fixtures to come. Games against Norwich, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and West Ham should be more straightforward, and they also get to take on two of their three closest pursuers in Wolves and Sheffield United, giving them the chance to open up a gap on the rest.
The big danger to their prospects of a top four finish is Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side seem rejuvenated are only three points behind in fifth place, with new signings Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo giving them a boost. They were in fine form when the season came to a halt, winning at Stamford Bridge before thrashing Watford and beating their city rivals. And, aside from games against Tottenham and Leicester, United’s remaining fixtures look straightforward.
Another wild card will be fitness. Chelsea had been hoping to resume squad training early next month, but it has been confirmed that there will be no training at all, meaning fitness is based on individual players’ training. The predominance of younger players in Chelsea’s squad may count in their favour here, as older professionals can find it takes longer to get match fit, though much will depend on the individual’s attitude to staying fit during the lockdown, and indeed on how badly they were affected by the virus itself.
Squad rotation will be a headache for Lampard as he attempts to negotiate nine crucial Premier League games in a short space of time, along with the second leg of their Champions League tie in Munich and a tricky FA Cup game against Leicester, but he will be helped by the likely return of Callum Hudson-Odoi. The young England star had been hoping to make a comeback in the spring, but the extra break will have given him more time to recuperate, and he is likely to be a key part of Lampard’s plans when topflight football returns.