The latest in that list was Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen, and before the German had even put pen to paper on his Chelsea contract fans and pundits alike were speculating about how Lampard would accommodate all of his new charges.
It’s not an easy task, that’s for sure. This is arguably the strongest the Chelsea squad has been in some time, and while the back five feels like an easy task in terms of selection, the midfield and attack remains something of a mystery.
The one consensus that has appeared is the need for balance. While it might seem appealing to name as many attackers in the team as possible, Lampard knows the importance of a happy medium. That is where Mateo Kovacic could be so important. The Croatian arrived at Stamford Bridge from Real Madrid and has shown a well-rounded skill set that makes him a vital cog in the Blues’ engine room.
Lampard is a fan and chose to single out Kovacic for praise in the wake of the club’s embarrassing Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich earlier this year.
“I thought there were a couple of performances in our team, namely Kovacic, who played with a personality and a quality that makes you go: ‘Okay, he can play in pretty much any team with that level’,” he said.
If Kovacic is to be a central figure, it is important to find the right partner for him. Lampard has not been afraid to experiment, but one thing that has remained consistent is the use of a two-man midfield.
Jorginho was signed as a defensive-midfielder but has struggled for long periods of his Chelsea career. The Italian international is the definition of a deep-lying playmaker, preferring to sit in the middle and orchestrate proceedings.
His most obvious weakness is his lack of physicality, and that could be further exposed when Chelsea face counter-attacking opportunities. The fact he started all but one of the final five league games towards the end of last season would suggest Lampard sees a role for him and even hailed his response to being benched.
“I am very pleased and it is what I expect of players I want at the club,” he said. “You go through moments out of the team or that are difficult individually. You have to be tough, that’s why I made him vice-captain initially.”
As midfielders go, N’Golo Kante represents the opposite of Jorginho. The Frenchman is a ball of energy that uses his speed, stamina, and fantastic reading of the game to consistently win the ball back.
If Lampard was to go with Kante there would be few concerns about handling the threat of counter-attacks, but Kante’s smaller range of passing may make it harder to break teams down, and would put greater reliance on Kovacic to create from deep and stitch together Chelsea’s attacks.
Kante’s future has been complicated by persistent reports that Antonio Conte wishes to bring him to Inter Milan.
The other most likely candidate is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The midfielder’s loan spell at Crystal Palace in the 2017/2018 season denoted him as one of the most exciting young English midfielders in the Premier League, but injuries have since derailed his momentum.
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He was able to accrue a good number of minutes during the final stretch of last season, but Lampard may wish to take a measured approach with him this season.
While Mason Mount has also played in central midfield, he seems far more natural in an advanced role, and it leaves Lampard with a clear choice between the three aforementioned candidates.
There is a case to be made for Lampard adapting his pairing for the opponent at hand, but consistency is so often key when it comes to the spine of a side, and it’s a decision he will have to make soon, with Kante seeming the more viable option.