Football Features

Six senior Chelsea players who need to step up this season… starting with the Uefa Super Cup

By Harry Edwards

Published: 13:32, 13 August 2019

Chelsea started life under Frank Lampard with a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Manchester United to kick off the new Premier League season.

It was always going to be a tough ride for Lampard, who has only had one season as a manager, given that he was unable to sign players for a squad that needed improvements due to a transfer ban.

The summer transfer window saw Chelsea lose 14 players to have made at least one competitive senior appearance for the club, including Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and David Luiz.

As a result, Lampard has had to make do with players from last season and returning loanees which, including injuries, meant Chelsea were always going to field a strange side at Old Trafford.

Chelsea’s starting XI had an average age of 25 years and 199 days – their youngest ever on the opening weekend of a Premier League season. This included Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, who were both making their first competitive starts for the Blues.

After the defeat, Lampard was criticised for picking young stars with more experienced heads such as Olivier Giroud on the bench, most notably by former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

You look to the performance of Mason Mount, the performance of Tammy Abraham, you look to the performance even of Christensen and for matches of this dimension you need a little bit more.

Jose Mourinho on Chelsea’s defeat to Man Utd

But some believed his singling out of the young trio was unfair, especially when the likes of Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta had a day to forget.

With Chelsea unable to alter their squad until next summer, the Blues will have to rely on younger stars more often throughout the season. While their own individual performances will matter, Chelsea’s senior players must also help ensure their transition into the team is smooth, starting with Wednesday’s Uefa Super Cup final against Liverpool.

So which senior players need to step up and help to take the heat off their young colleagues?

Cesar Azpilicueta

Following the departure of Cahill in the summer, Azpilicueta is officially the Chelsea captain, having donned the armband on the pitch for Maurizio Sarri.

It is now his responsibility to step up both on and off the pitch, ensuring Lampard’s plans are kept fresh in the minds of his team-mates.

In the past, the Spaniard made a name for himself as ‘Mr. Reliable’ for Chelsea, putting in a solid performance wherever he was played, whether it be at right-back, left-back or centre-back. Mourinho once said a team of 11 Azpilicuetas could win the Champions League.

But the 29-year-old looked a far cry from the man Mourinho heralded when Chelsea travelled to Old Trafford, being caught out by pace of the United front line.

Despite the season only being one game old, Chelsea fans have already called for Azpilicueta to be immediately dropped once young Reece James returns from injury. This was aided by Lampard’s comments post-match.

Callum [Hudson-Odoi] and Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] will be slightly further than that. Reece James coming back, who is going to be a big player for us, I think.

Frank Lampard speaking after Chelsea’s defeat to Man Utd

But until that time comes, Azpilicueta will be Chelsea’s starting right-back and perhaps it is time for the Spaniard to refine his game to work in his favour – as John Terry did when age was getting the better of him.

Not only that, Azpilicueta needs to be the one to keep Chelsea’s morale high when they do go behind – something that will happen quite a bit unless the defence is improved upon.

Olivier Giroud

Giroud started Chelsea’s defeat to Man Utd on the bench, coming on for Abraham between the second and third goals.

The Frenchman, who helped fire Chelsea to Europa League glory over the summer, was unable to do better than the man he replaced with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof reigning supreme.

Post-match there were calls for Giroud to have started due to his aerial ability and hold up play, and there is a chance the 32-year-old could be in the XI to face Liverpool on Wednesday.

With most of his starts for Chelsea last season coming in the Europa League, Giroud made the competition his own, scoring 11 goals in 14 games, including one in the 4-1 final win over Arsenal.

But the biggest obstacle for Giroud to become a regular starter remains his lack of pace. Both Sarri and Lampard’s style of play rely on quick movement from the striker, something Abraham does offer over Giroud.

So now could be the chance for Giroud – Chelsea’s oldest outfield player – to turn mentor to Abraham, teaching him his ways and handing out any tips to help make the Englishman the goalscorer Chelsea need.

Pedro

Much like Chelsea, Pedro actually started the game at Old Trafford well, and looked set to be key in a Blues win. But then things went pear-shaped.

The 32-year-old, who has won practically everything on offer in European football, was uncharacteristically poor. His decision making was below par and he gave the ball away far too often, putting his own defence under pressure.

It was, therefore, a surprise to some that Pedro played the full 90 minutes at Old Trafford.

But if Lampard is to put faith in the serial winner, Pedro needs to prove himself worthy of a place. Last season, the Spaniard scored 13 goals and recorded five assists in 52 games across all competitions but worked hard as Sarri’s right winger.

However, a new manager is in charge now, and Wednesday’s Super Cup could be Pedro’s final chance to impress unopposed, with Willian set to return soon and Christian Pulisic capable of playing on either wing.

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Ross Barkley

Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley in action

After Chelsea finished their pre-season, there was a lot of excitement surrounding Ross Barkley.

The 25-year-old England international was involved in seven of Chelsea’s 17 goals across their seven games, scoring four and recording three assists.

It was expected that he would be key to Lampard’s plans this season, operating as the main No.10. But at Old Trafford Barkley was played in the left attacking role of Lampard’s 4-2-3-1, with Mount occupying the central position.

And he was not able to have as big an influence on the game as many would have hoped, somewhat struggling to live up to his pre-season expectations.

But Chelsea need Barkley to step up wherever he is on the pitch, whether it be central or out wide, as a collective effort is the club’s best chance of replacing Hazard’s goals.

This can only come with teamwork, and Barkley needs to combine with Pedro and Willian to help the younger stars such as Mount, Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi – all under 21 – when they get into the starting XI.

Willian

Although Willian played no role in Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester United and could also miss the Super Cup, the Brazilian needs to have his best season yet.

Now donning the no.10 jersey left vacant by Hazard, it will be Willian’s number one priority to try and replace the irreplaceable Belgian.

In 56 appearances across all competitions for Chelsea last season, Willian managed just eight goals and recorded 13 assists – some way off the 21 goals and 17 assists Hazard recorded in four fewer games.

Willian’s best season remains the 2017/18 campaign where he managed 13 goals and 10 assists, but once again this is not sufficient enough for Chelsea to replace a man of Hazard’s calibre.

It is, therefore, up to Willian to ensure he finds another level to take his game to, whether that be by refining his goalscoring or building an understanding with his fellow attackers to assist more than he has before.

Antonio Rudiger

Like Willian, Antonio Rudiger is not available for selection right now having only recently returned to training, but the 26-year-old will need to step up when he is back.

With Luiz and Cahill departing, Rudiger is now the most-senior centre-back Chelsea have. The German was impressive before injury cut his campaign short last season and looked to be Chelsea’s best centre-back option.

But with Chelsea weak and short of personnel at the back, Rudiger will be afforded little time to get ready for the new season. He will be expected to lead by example and be the level head alongside three younger players in Christensen, Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori.

Now is the time for Rudiger to show just how good a centre-back he can be.

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