Ask The Opposition - Chelsea vs Manchester City (w/ AbsoluteChelsea)
Manchester City's Thursday night clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge sees Pep Guardiola go head-to-head with Chelsea legend, and former City player, Frank Lampard.
Lampard's first season in charge of the London club has been more successful than almost anyone predicted, and they're currently favourites to secure the fourth Champions League spot ahead of the arrivals of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner this summer.
With the race for the top four hotting up, how do you rate Chelsea's season so far, and your chances of finishing in a Champions League spot?
It’s been a superb season under Frank Lampard. It’s been a transition year as such, along with the three-year plan that the club has, but I think it’s been as successful as we could have hoped for. The club now has a structure and has a sense of fluidity throughout from the academy to the first-team, and then from the manager to the board. The blooding of youngsters has been a real success. They’ve been given their opportunities and have excelled, so ahead of next season the club are in a great position moving forward.
At the start of the season, we were pretty much written off to qualify for the Champions League next season, but now it’s ours to lose. We’ve still got a couple of tough fixtures ahead of us, Liverpool and Wolves included – and with Wolves’ run-in, I think it could go down to the final day of the season when Wolves come to Stamford Bridge. From the way the season has played out so far, I’m confident we will secure a place in the top four, but all eyes will be on Man City’s CAS hearing as that will make it slightly easier should they be banned from European competitions next season.
How would you rate Frank Lampard's spell in charge so far, and do you think he'll become a success in the long-term?
Although I have said previously that the squad can’t be judged just yet, and neither can Frank to a degree, his first season at Chelsea has been extremely promising. Out of ten, I would give him a solid nine. There isn’t much that he has done wrong, if any. He’s come in and sorted the club out so to speak. He’s evaluated the squad, given selected youngsters the chances who have grasped their chances given to them, and has started to get rid of the ‘deadwood’. He’s buying players which improve the squad, which is the most important thing, he’s not just packing the squad out with players just to add squad depth. Providing he is given the backing and right tools by Roman Abramovich, which he has, and the signs are that he will continue to do so, I see him becoming a success at Chelsea and I anticipate him breaking the trend of managers coming and going, and will be here in five years. The day a major trophy is won under his leadership, it’ll be an extremely special day.
Chelsea already have two impressive talents in Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech joining the club this summer, what do you think they'll both bring to the side?
The obvious answer is that they’ll bring experience and quality to an exciting, youthful side. They’ve both proven themselves in their respective leagues and also, they have Champions League experience.
But I think the most important area of their arrivals is that they’ll provide competition of a real high level. There’s going to be competition for places in almost every department, which will push the squad to their highest level as it becomes a fight to lock down a starting place. For the youngsters already in the side, it’ll only improve them as well; training and playing with the best will only improve them.
Given these signings, do you feel if you strengthen at the back you could compete with City and Liverpool next year?
It’s rather intriguing, strengthening in attack when our defence is the biggest weakness. I think next year is one-year too early. Come the 2021/22 season, that’s when we will and can be judged the most. Next year is about solidifying and building on the foundations set and built from this season. But yes, once the defence is sorted, a left-back is set to come in and if we can acquire a new centre-half who brings assurance and consistency to the back line, I think we’ll become a bigger threat to what we already are.
But defenders with quality who are available for a transfer are so hard to come by these days, and they don’t come cheaply either. It’ll be about pouncing at the right time.
Chelsea have an abundance of talent in midfield, and with the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, what is your best midfield three?
This is probably the most difficult area of the side to select. There are seven or eight midfielders available for selection which is a great problem to have, but one which makes it almost impossible to name a three. Albeit the three will change depending on the opposition, my midfield three right now is Kante/Kovacic/Mount. The trio played together against Aston Villa and impressed and as a trio they offer the most.
Loftus-Cheek’s return has been such a welcome boost, but he has to prove himself because of the time he has spent on the sidelines and Mount in that role has shown his capabilities this season and has proven how influential he is to this Chelsea side, not to mention his versatility.
Finally, what are your score predictions and predicted line-up for Thursday?
Predicted Chelsea XI: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta ©, Zouma, Rudiger, Alonso; Kanté, Kovacic, Mount; Pulisic, Abraham, Willian
Score prediction: Chelsea 2-2 Manchester City
You can follow Absolute Chelsea on Twitter here: @AbsoluteChelsea
You can follow us on Twitter for live match coverage: @City_Xtra