What a summer this has been. Sarri left to returned to his homeland, Hazard decided it was time to work on his tan in Madrid, FIFA handed us a 2-window transfer ban and to top it off our youngsters started dropping like flies through injury.
And yet, I’m optimistic.
There’s talent all across the squad, with young, exciting players now pushing for first team games. There’s a new manager in the shape of an old club legend. There’s a raft of ex-stars taking over coaching and admin jobs. Of course, it could all collapse in spectacular fashion, but could it be the start of something great?
The powers that be at FPL certainly don’t seem to think it’s too likely that Chelsea will challenge at a level they have done in previous seasons – Despite finishing 3rd in the league, no player is priced above 7.5m, somewhat unheard of in our world of FPL. What that leaves, however, is a fantastic chance to find gems among the rubble.
So, who should be bought and who should be avoided?
Kepa – 5.5m
Caballero – 5.0m
There are a few tough calls at certain positions for Lampard to make over who will get the starting spot, but there’s no such issue in goal. With 14 clean sheets last season, Kepa was only bettered by Ederson and Allison in this regard and finished with a respectable 142 points. Given the pricing of Spurs and Chelsea defenders, Kepa may well offer a cheaper route into the Chelsea backline whereas a Spurs defender may be the optimum solution after the entire backline got priced in at 5.5m. Weighing up Kepa and Pickford is tougher – Pickford’s kind fixtures may well make him a good option early on, but Kepa should have the edge over a season. Whilst a keeper should be seen as a long term investment, the likelihood is that most manager will WC before Everton’s string of lovely fixtures end, so it might be best to jump on him, assuming (and this is critical) Everton continue with their excellent defensive form despite the loss of Zouma. Caballero will likely be limited to cup games.
Verdict: Kepa is a decent buy if you’re looking for a 5.5 keeper. However, 6m keepers should be worth the extra 0.5m given their increased reliability with clean sheets. A 4.5m keeper (Ryan, Burnley keepers etc) may well offer better value over the season. Caballero should be avoided unless Kepa picks up a long-term injury.
Alonso – LB – 6.5m
Rudiger – CB – 6.0m
Azpilicueta – RB – 6.0m
David Luiz – CB – 6.0m
Emerson – LB – 5.5m
Christensen – CB – 5.0m
Zappacosta – RB – 4.5m
Zouma – CB – Unpriced
Reece James – RB – Unpriced
Tomori – CB – Unpriced
Alonso comes in as the most expensive defender, despite Emerson limiting his minutes towards the end of the season. Given his past returns under Conte, Alonso should always be considered as a dangerous FPL asset due to his excellent attacking potential and his high attacking work rate. Despite being switched back to LB from LWB – a move which seemed to suit him substantially less – Alonso still recorded the 2nd highest goal attempts per 90 minutes for defenders that played more than 1000 minutes over the season, with just the OOP Schlupp beating him. However, the presence of Emerson will put many off, as buying a 6.5m defender that could be second choice seems perilous. If, on the other hand, Lampard was to switch back to a formation with wingbacks and/or Alonso was to firmly secure the LB role, he could once again be a real option. Emerson could also be worthy of thought, after he seemed to oust Alonso from the LB position under Sarri. Given Alonso’s defensive weaknesses, it seems that Emerson is far better suited to a full back role than Alonso, but whether he starts will be dependent on Lampard’s preference. Whilst we can’t say for sure what he will opt for until we see how he sets up in some preseason games, we can take a look at the tactics he used at Derby for some clues. There, he tended to encourage his players to force attackers wide instead of allowing them to play through the middle. This is significant because whilst this might be less viable in a league with multiple teams deploying overlapping fullbacks, a logical assumption would be that Lampard would prefer the more defensive full back if he does want to continue with a similar tactic. If Emerson nails down a starting spot, he may be less explosive than Alonso but will certainly offer better value.
On the other flank, you’d expect the ever reliable Azpilicueta to continue to play. Azpilicueta, aka Mr Consistent, has racked up 3000 or more Premier League minutes in each of his last 4 seasons, rarely putting a foot wrong, and has now picked up 47 clean sheets in his last 3 seasons. His consistency is remarkable – 16 clean sheets and 5 assists in 16/17, 15 clean sheets and 6 assists in 17/18 and now another 16 clean sheets and 6 assists last year. However, despite finishing 13th for xA among defenders last season, Azpilicueta was well off the pace for chances created per 90, falling far behind most – 35th among defenders that played over 1000 minutes. Reece James had a fantastic season with Wigan and now looks set to begin getting some first team game time, but still won’t quite be at the required level for this season. I’d suspect this is the season for Reece James to train as an understudy to Azpilicueta, building footballing knowledge and experience, with eyes on replacing Azpilicueta as soon as next season, with Azpilicueta’s legs start to go. Zappacosta, sadly, has not impressed at the Bridge and may well find himself behind Reece James now in the pecking order. With Reece James also potentially returning from his injury in time for the start of the season, Zappacosta might find himself surplus to requirements at the club.
Assuming that Lampard continues with a variation of 4-3-3 formation, that leaves 2 spots for centre-backs, and it’s not an easy call to say who will start. Rudiger will face a tough battle to be ready for the start of the season, meaning he can probably be ruled out from our teams early doors. Luiz earned himself a contract extension despite being over the 30+ threshold after dominating last season – He topped Chelsea players for Aerial duels won, CBI’s (Clearances, blocks and interceptions) and headed goal attempts, 2nd for minutes played (behind Azpilicueta), 2nd for passes (behind Jorginho) and remarkably 2nd for big chances created (behind Hazard). Fond of long, searching balls over the top of high defensive lines, he could find more success in this approach if Lampard elects to play a young, quick front 3 as expected. However, he faces competition from the far younger duo of Zouma and Christensen both of which should be cheaper than Luiz. Uncertainty over who will start would put me off until we have a clear indication of how Lampard will set up, but there could certainly be value found here if one of the younger CBs can secure a spot in Rudiger’s absence or even oust one of Rudiger or Luiz. This could be a real possibility too – back in February of 2018, Lampard was full of praise for Christensen, going as far to say that the team should be built around him and that he’d remain in the side even if Van Dijk had been signed in that January window. Since then, Christensen found himself less popular under Sarri and no longer had the regular minutes he did with Conte, but it’s worth considering that Lampard’s opinion may not have changed. A further arrow in the Christensen quiver is that both Luiz and Zouma tend to play in the left CB role, whereas Christensen and Rudiger played on the right, making Christensen the more logical replacement – though I wouldn’t consider this a major deciding factor at this stage.
Verdict: Given that Chelsea have 4 fairly tough games from a defensive standpoint in the first 6 (all of whom Chelsea failed to keep a clean sheet against in the equivalent game last season), it might be best to wait until after Gameweek 6 before buying – plus, by that time, we’ll know who is starting. Azpilicueta doesn’t offer enough going forwards for my personal taste, but Luiz could warrant investment if he can hold off the youngsters. If budget options – Zouma, Christensen, Emerson etc – secure a regular starting spot, they’ll be worth a look on the basis of value. Alonso would need to find his old form and security of starts, which might need a switch back to 5-3-2, to warrant consideration. Therefore, given the number of ifs across the board, avoid but monitor.
Pulisic – RW – 7.5m
Willian – LW – 7.0m
Pedro – RW – 7.0m
Loftus-Cheek – CM – 6.5m
Hudson-Odoi – LW – 6.0m
Barkley – CM – 6.0m
Kovacic – CM – 5.5m
Kante – CM – 5.0m
Jorginho – CM – 5.0m
Ampadu – CM – 4.5m
Drinkwater – CM – 4.5m
Mount – CM – Unpriced
New boy Pulisic was announced at an interesting 7.5m price tag – a very fair (and safe) assessment I feel, despite fear of him being massively overpriced due to “new signing” hype. He comes in with the unenviable task of filling the gargantuan hole left by Eden Hazard, something he realistically has little to no chance of fully doing. As a player, his style is very similar to Hazard’s – directly taking opponents on with frequent dribbles, making use of his speed and agility to force defenders onto their heels. However, unlike Hazard, he has historically struggled with goals and assists which is the leading factor hindering his appeal as an FPL asset. Given that he should be nailed, whether this trend continues should be the deciding factor on if he becomes a good FPL asset. He will likely compete with Pedro over the season for the RW position, who should see some game time, but not enough to either make Pedro an option or diminish Pulisic as one either, despite being Chelsea’s 2nd top goal scorer last season.
On the other wing, Hudson-Odoi faces off against the far older Willian for a starting spot. Last season, Sarri spoke of how “Probably, he will play 30-35 games next season” which suggests he is ready to take over from Willian, especially given how Lampard is a big fan of using young players, more so than Sarri. Recently, Lampard has started making similar quotes to Sarri about Hudson-Odoi’s potential at the club, as we try to get him to sign a new contract, saying “Hudson-Odoi is going to be central for us on the pitch”. After multiple impressive performances, I’m licking my lips at the prospect of Hudson-Odoi at only 6m, but sadly that will have to wait as a nasty achilles injury means he likely will not return until early to mid-September. As a direct result, Willian once again enters the thinking – he rated 2nd for goal attempts and chances created (behind Hazard, big surprise), 2nd for shots against the woodwork (no prizes for guessing who beat him here) and top for crosses last season, despite having his minutes limited by Pedro. Granted, comparisons within the Chelsea squad are often very different to comparisons drawn out of it, but in this case, Willian holds up very well – he had the joint best minutes per chance created in the Premier League last season with De Bruyne at 27 minutes per chance created. He, certainly, is worthy of consideration for now.
Chelsea’s central midfield isn’t exactly something that will get FPL managers salivating, but there’s some potential there. The standout option if of course Loftus-Cheek who showed some impressive form at the end of the season – he in fact bested Eden Hazard and the rest of the team for goals per 90 in the league. Coming in at 6.5m, he could offer tremendous value playing just behind the striker, but alas has succumbed to a similar but worse achilles injury that Hudson-Odoi suffered. As a result, he can be ruled out of our thinking until approximately November. The two that we can expect to be present, are Jorginho and certainly Kante. Whilst unsure of how Lampard will organise his midfield, we can assume that either midfielder won’t offer much more offensively than they did last season, at least from open play. Kante might find himself assigned a deeper role than he had last season and as a defensive midfielder should not be in FPL managers thoughts. Jorginho, however, might suddenly be worth consideration after penalty-taker Hazard’s departure. Despite evidence that VAR reduced the number of penalties given in the European leagues, managers will no doubt be tempted to snap up a penalty taker for a top 6 team given how frequently fast attackers (Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic etc) can draw fouls. Perhaps at 5m he is too expensive for many, myself included, given he would be sat on our benches as a 5th midfielder most weeks, but for those opting for a different formation like a 433, he may be worth a thought. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Lampard won’t be able to find a place for him in the Chelsea midfield….
Perhaps though, Loftus-Cheek’s injury opens the door for some more attacking midfielders. Mount, Barkley, Kovacic, Drinkwater and Bakayoko are all options available to Frank Lampard if he does so require, but few will actually see game time. Drinkwater can be discounted for now, as he now seems to be at the club only to make up the numbers for homegrown talent. Bakayoko failed to impress in his first stint at Chelsea, which Lampard commented on, so is unlikely to force his way through this field of competition. Mount, whilst young and a favourite of Lampard at Derby, may be too young to feature frequently this season and could probably do with a Premier League loan – which may indeed make him a good FPL option in itself. That leaves Barkley and Kovacic, the pair also known as Sarri’s favourite substitution. After racking up a similar number of minutes last season for Chelsea, I believe it’s the slightly more attacking Barkley that would get the nod from Lampard, though this is more of a hunch than anything based on the similarities between Barkley and Lampard himself. Neither has done enough so far to cement their place in Loftus-Cheek’s absence, but both should have an excellent chance this preseason. Will either offer enough to be FPL options? Unlikely. Barkley could possibly pick up some decent returns, but in all likelihood neither will offer the security of starts or explosive potential as others in the price bracket.
Verdict: Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek look set to offer fantastic value as they step up in the absence of Hazard, but both will have to be delayed until they return from their injuries. In Hudson-Odoi’s absence, Willian could offer be a shrewd purchase with Chelsea looking at facing 2 promoted teams in weeks 3 and 4. Pulisic may become an excellent option, but given his history and recent arrival, it might be best to give him time to develop. All other options are outclassed in their price brackets, unless Mount finds himself getting games (at whichever club that may be).
Giroud – 7.0m
Abraham – Unpriced
Batshuyai – Unpriced
I can save you some time here – If one of these 3 men secure a starting position, or show signs of it over pre-season, they should be in your team. Simple. Or is it? Frank Lampard arrives from a Derby team that did not perform well in xG (Expected Goals) last season and that’s putting it mildly. Derby finished 7th for goals scored in the league at 69, but came a shocking 19th on xG, hinting at a massive over-achievement. Some fans, therefore, might see this as an omen that Lampard’s tactics and luck might run dry when put to the test in the Premier League, casting doubt over the allure of a Chelsea forward.
Giroud returns for another season with the club after signing a new contract following a string of excellent European performances, at the expense of his never-moving ex-teammate Higuain. You would imagine, quite logically, that given Giroud’s complaints over the season that he hadn’t received enough minutes that he felt he deserved, he would have only signed a new contract if he had received promises from the higher ups that he would get good minutes or at the very least compete for that starting role. However, that was signed whilst Sarri was still manager.
Now, Frank Lampard has come in with a new playstyle which made use of a quicker central forward that could press the opposition defenders and create spaces when they attack – something that isn’t Giroud’s forte. As a result, one of Abraham or Batshuayi could get a look in now. The current favourite for the role seems to be Abraham – as he’s the most suited to making fast, unselfish runs – who had a stellar season in the Championship and performed well with England Under 21s. In fact, he has already begun to state his intentions of making full use of this golden opportunity and seems excited at the prospect of having Lampard manage him. Based on FPL’s other prices, I’d put him as a 6.5m forward, which would be a fantastic price for a top 6 forward if he secures that starting spot. Batshuayi, whilst having shown glimpses of what he can achieve in loan spells at Palace and Valencia, may be running out of time to prove that he is capable of being the man to lead the Chelsea line, with many fans now believing that Abraham is the most likely of the strikers to be able to raise their game to the required top 6 level. Batshuayi could get a loan to another Premier League club, but with no Hazard to act as an extra backup in that forward spot, it might be wise for Chelsea to try hold onto him for this season. It seems he’s keen to remain as well with recent comments from Batshuayi on Twitter seeming to suggest he’ll be looking to fight for a starting role.
Verdict: As I said earlier, if one of them looks to have nailed down a spot, it’ll be worth buying. With the assumption that it will be Abraham, I plan on starting Gameweek 1 with a Chelsea forward (who will likely be my only Chelsea player to begin with) and then look at bringing in Hudson-Odoi later, probably around the time I wildcard. Whichever forwards don’t get the regular games, or face heavy rotation, will likely be best ignored despite any explosive potential considering how light many FPL manager’s benches are looking.
It has been an odd summer, with an odd series of events and it’s left us with an odd FPL situation. Last season Chelsea were bailed out multiple times by Hazard but with him now gone it’s comparable to the loss of a huge safety net. Suddenly, Chelsea could find themselves under pressure and exposed, but this may be the kick certain players needed to begin pulling their weight. Across the board there’s potential that though whilst often accompanied by swathes of uncertainty around rotation and minutes could develop into absolute gems of FPL assets. Pre-season may hold many answers but will likely leave some unanswered, so I’ll revisit many of these problems later in the summer.
This team has gone through a big change, from the loss of Hazard to the return of Frank Lampard, but the youngsters rising up should not be written off by FPL managers just yet – they have the makings of players that could change your season.