By Neil Robinson
LONDON (Reuters) – If Frank Lampard is still Chelsea manager in a year’s time it will be because he has succeeded in solving the club’s most pressing problem — how to score without Eden Hazard.
Last season the Belgian forward finished with 16 goals and 15 assists, meaning he was involved in almost half of the west London side’s Premier league goals.
His ability to hold the ball up, allowing others to come into the play, and defence-splitting passes have been the distinguishing feature of Chelsea’s attack for years and his close season departure to Real Madrid has left a gaping hole.
That has been widened further because unlike the 13 managers who have preceded him in the Roman Abramovich era, Lampard will not be able to plug the gap by spending his employer’s money.
Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban has overshadowed Lampard’s return to a club he played for with distinction for 13 years, winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League.
With on-loan Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain having left, Lampard must rely for goals on 32-year-old Olivier Giroud, who has never scored consistently for Chelsea in the Premier League, or the previously overlooked Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi.
Although 20-year-old Christian Pulisic has arrived from Borussia Dortmund in a 58 million pounds ($70.43 million) deal negotiated before the transfer ban, he remains a raw talent who must first justify selection ahead of Willian and Pedro.
The size of Lampard’s task is measured by the level of Chelsea’s decline, even with Hazard, since January when, under previous manager Maurizio Sarri they collected just 23 points from a possible 54, scoring 25 goals.
Although Chelsea ended the season by winning the Europa League, it was no surprise when Sarri departed, his style of football deemed one-paced and uninspiring.
So Lampard must re-energise the team to even hold onto Chelsea’s tag as best of the rest behind Premier League champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool.
Despite Lampard’s previous success at the club, the 41-year-old is promising “not to look backwards”, brushing aside his transfer handicap with the assertion he does not need to sign better players because the ones he has are already good enough.
That will please the likes of Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mason Mount, who will see the involuntary closing of the Abramovich chequebook as an opportunity.
Lampard has even vowed to regularly watch reserve and academy football, something many of his predecessors appeared less interested in. That suggests he knows this season’s restrictions can be used to his advantage.
Providing he avoids a poor start and demonstrates progress, Lampard might even be given the opportunity to see out his three-year contract, which would make him the club’s longest serving manager since Claudio Ranieri.
“I think expectations at Chelsea will always remain from the outside because of what the club’s done in the last 15 years in the Roman Abramovich era,” Lampard told Chelsea TV.
“And I like that, I enjoyed that as a player. I enjoyed the pressure of expectation…
“But the standards have to keep rising year after year. And that’s not just on the pitch, that’s daily, that’s players, staff, everybody at the training ground, everybody around the place.
“And I’ll try and push that. I think that when you are in charge, you have to push it.”
His start could not be tougher, with a trip to Manchester United, a UEFA Super Cup final against Liverpool and a home game with resurgent Leicester City sandwiched into eight days.
When he draws breath after such a hectic opening week, he should be clear on the scale of his challenge.
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(Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)