Transforming Chelsea into title challengers in the space of one window was always going to be a big ask.
But a combination of timing, circumstance and cold, hard cash has put Frank Lampard in a position where he presides over one of the most enviable squads in European football.
The impact of coronavirus on Chelsea’s business cannot be understated – likewise the transfer ban that made Lampard’s first season in charge so challenging.
Also significant was Roman Abramovich’s determination to force his club back into the conversation at the top of English football after watching on as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp turned to Premier League title into a personal duel.
Chelsea were the only team in Europe to spend like a super club – and their owner demonstrated his faith in Lampard’s potential by providing him with £220million of new recruits.
Abramovich has given his manager the tools to prove he can take on Guardiola and Klopp in a fair fight. But they are also top-class additions that any manager would be expected to form into a title-winning team if Lampard fails to meet expectations.
The signings of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell, in particular, sent shockwaves around Europe in a summer when the giants of the game were forced to rein in their spending as the financial effects of Covid-19 and behind-closed-doors football took its toll on the usual big-hitters.
Havertz had long-been of interest to Real Madrid – but they were nowhere to be seen as Abramovich sanctioned a £71m deal with Bayer Leverkusen.
It was a spectacular show of financial muscle – not least because it was the penultimate signing of an already lavish window for Chelsea.
Manchester United had also been interested, just as they were in Ziyech and Werner.
Liverpool had been strongly on Werner’s tail too, but it’s understood Chelsea were able woo the German with the promise of filling Eden Hazard’s boots as their talisman – along with a salary to match that status.
Both Liverpool and United were effectively out of the race to the sign the striker by the time he made the decision to head to Stamford Bridge.
United also held back in their pursuit of Ziyech, while Chelsea pounced back in February.
The Moroccan had been identified by both as a potential solution on the right wing, while each club also remained very interested in Jadon Sancho.
United chose to wait for the Borussia Dortmund winger – but Chelsea swooped for a relative-bargain price of £33m.
Ziyech already looks a steal after his outstanding start to the season. United, meanwhile, failed to land top target Sancho after refusing to meet Dortmund’s £118m valuation as they continue to count the cost of Covid.
In the wake of the pandemic, Paris Saint-Germain opted against offering long-term, big-money deals to aging players like Thiago Silva, who also headed to Stamford Bridge.
This is where that transfer ban has served Chelsea so well.
Two windows without spending – added to the £89m Real paid for Hazard – provided them with the funds their rivals simply didn't have. But it is still a measure of Abramovich’s determination to go again that those funds were effectively ring-fenced from the losses being felt by football’s lockdown, broadcast rebates and fan shutouts.
From Lampard’s point of view, he has benefited from the relative ‘free hit’ of that first season because it was assessed in the context of him being hamstrung by the ban.
While his achievements of qualifying for the Champions League and reaching an FA Cup final are commendable, history tells us similar campaigns would have cost his predecessors their jobs.
Now he has had a year to settle in with reduced scrutiny, followed by a summer of spectacular spending.
To put Chelsea’s business into context, they have spent more than double the £98m Abramovich splashed out in his first summer.
The market has inflated considerably in the years since – but circumstances surrounding this latest window makes his outlay comparably eye-watering.
Lampard was given the luxury of being able to identify the areas of his team that needed dramatic improvement – and provided with top-quality solutions.
He has been happy with the input he’s been allowed to have on recruitment, while Marina Granovskaia has delivered two of German football’s finest talents among others.
Of particular concern for Lampard was a lack of pace up front, which has been filled with the explosive Werner.
He wanted more of an aerial presence in both boxes, which Thiago has helped to provide alongside Kurt Zouma.
He was also keen to follow Liverpool’s example of flying full-backs as a major attacking force. Reece James had already shown his potential – and £50m secured Chilwell to provide the perfect balance on the left.
Lampard also needed a creative spark that was lost when Hazard walked away.
Havertz is expected to provide that when he fully settles in – but Ziyech is already proving himself a game-changer of the highest quality.
So strong is Chelsea’s depth of talent that it would have been fascinating to see how Willian would have fitted in had he agreed to a new contract.
In that sense, it could be seen as fortuitous that he and Pedro both walked away as free agents to make room for their rich array of attacking options.
Likewise, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were loaned out, creating space for teenage prospect Billy Gilmour to continue to progress.
Planning for the window had been in process long-before the pandemic – but Chelsea’s hand was only strengthened as the rest of football largely withdrew.
It has been a significant undertaking in a short space of time, with the underlying impression being that Abramovich is making up for lost time.
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