Entering the 2019-20 Premier League campaign, few analysts forecasted Chelsea outperforming other perennial top-four contenders such as Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United. While this year’s title remains Liverpool’s to lose, Chelsea has assembled a remarkably talented young squad that has defied expectations this season and reestablished the club as an English heavyweight.
In the summer of 2019, Chelsea had little reason for optimism about the future. The team lost its centerpiece in Belgian star Eden Hazard after he announced his transfer to Madrid in June. The club was banned from signing any new players in the summer transfer window or the midseason window due to a breach of FIFA regulations. This restriction left little opportunity to replace the star power lost with Hazard’s departure. These challenging circumstances were combined with the departure of manager Maurizio Sarri, who was replaced by the relatively inexperienced Frank Lampard who had only managed a second-tier English club for one season.
Lampard — a club legend who played for Chelsea for 13 years — was tasked with leading one of the youngest rosters in the league. The most intriguing new asset in Lampard’s arsenal was American sensation Christian Pulisic, who was acquired from Borussia Dortmund before Chelsea’s transfer ban took effect.
However, Lampard controversially left the Hershey, Pa. native out of the starting lineup for the first nine league games of the season, arguing that the 21-year-old needed time to adapt. Pulisic flourished after being given the chance, scoring four goals in his first two Premier League starts and perhaps validating Lampard’s strategy.
Arguably more promising than Pulisic’s performance was that of 22-year-old English striker Tammy Abraham, who came through Chelsea’s youth academy and debuted at the senior level this season. Abraham has been nothing less than sensational, scoring nine league goals — tied for second-best in the league — and notching two assists in 11 games.
The remainder of Chelsea’s roster is full of dynamic players, including 19-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi and 20-year-old Mason Mount. Hudson-Odoi possesses remarkable speed and crossing ability from the wing. This impressive skill set led to three assists in his five appearances this season. Mount has become a regular starter as an attacking midfielder, showcasing his endurance, vision and pressing ability.
While other Premier League giants are relying on established stars — the likes of Harry Kane at Tottenham Hotspur and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal — Chelsea has relied on a deep pool of young talent to reach a top-four position this season.
Chelsea has also produced a fascinating display in the UEFA Champions League, a competition for which the club did not qualify last season. The team battled last year’s semifinalist Ajax Amsterdam to a 1-0 win and a 4-4 comeback draw. Pulisic created a goal in each match, one via assist and the other by winning a penalty in the box.
Assuming the team outlasts the group stage, Chelsea could make noise in the unpredictable knockout stage, in which a fortuitous away goal, opposing injury or marginal refereeing decision can make the difference in tight games.
Liverpool remains the favorite in the domestic title race, with 10 wins and only one draw heading into a major clash with Manchester City on Sunday. At the moment, Chelsea is unlikely to match Liverpool’s or City’s overall talent and experience in terms of both players and managers, and therefore their overall season production.
However, as these youth players develop, Chelsea has the potential to build one of the most dangerous squads in all of Europe. The club’s wealth under billionaire owner Roman Abramovich should allow it to hold onto most of its assets in the coming years. Once the transfer ban is lifted, Chelsea will have ample leverage to gain new acquisitions.
This team has already defied expectations this season with an entertaining style of play and it could very well be the beginning of a successful new era.