Chelsea saw their ill-famed transfer ban lifted on Friday, in what is surely one of the biggest moments of their season. After being banned by FIFA from signing any players until summer 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced the ban and the hefty fine.
It means that the Blues only have to pay 300,000 Francs (£230,000) of their 600,000 Franc fine, and will be able to sign players like normal in the upcoming transfer window. With Frank Lampard unable to bring any new players in upon his arrival in July, this will be his first real chance to invest in his squad.
This season looked set to be bleak for Chelsea six months ago, with Eden Hazard gone and no opportunity to sign any players until next summer. It led to a change of hand over the break, as Lampard took over as Chelsea manager from pantomime villain Maurizio Sarri.
The ban became a blessing in disguise, with a number of talented youngsters earning their breakthrough into the first team. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have burst onto the scene at Stamford Bridge, while Reece James and Kurt Zouma returned from successful loans to establish their places in defence.
There’s no doubt that Lampard would have called upon his fruitful academy prospects upon his arrival, but they certainly wouldn’t have got the same chance they have now. The wonderful crop of youth and inability to sign players crossed over perfectly in west London, the stars aligning on what looked to be a bleak season in SW6.
The announcement over the transfer ban has come at the perfect time, for both Lampard and his squad. Chelsea’s brightest youngsters have secured their spots in the first team for years to come, while the Blues are admittedly in need of improvement and strengthening across the squad.
Chelsea have proved many critics wrong this season, exceeding the harsh expectations of many. The Blues sit fourth in the Premier League and a win away from the Champions League knockout stages, in what has been a successful first half of the season. But of course, there is a lot of work to be done.
Lampard has now encountered his team’s flaws and weaknesses, having experimented with them and establishing his tactics. Lacklustre defending and failure to take chances are the key issues that need to be addressed, as well as dealing with a select few players who have entered the twilight of their Chelsea careers.
Many are also eager to see a wealth of signings over the January transfer window, with Lampard reportedly having a mouth-watering £150 million to spend next month. Borussia Dortmund starlet Jadon Sancho and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell are the two most prevalent names, alongside the likes of Nathan Aké and Sander Berge.
While Chelsea have the money to spend, the positions to strengthen and the calibre to attract these top players, they need to enter the new year with wit and consideration. Just as a child with their pocket money, Chelsea don’t need to go and spend all their money at once, and must be thoughtful with how they choose to spend.
Lampard’s squad is still not back to full fitness, with long-term absentees Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Antonio Rüdiger still on the road to recovery. Both players were pivotal for the Blues last season, and until they are back in the first team competing for their spots again, Lampard must be reluctant before investing in certain positions.
There are definitely areas for improvement in a broad Chelsea squad, such as left-back and right-winger. But going all out to bring in the likes of Chilwell and Sancho may not be the wisest choice, especially due to the availability of the pair and the time available for Lampard at the helm.
Leicester are extremely unlikely to part ways with Chilwell, with the England international a quarter of the league’s best defence this season. Meanwhile, Sancho has seven goals and nine assists at Borussia Dortmund this campaign, with the German heavyweights keen to further develop their south London starlet.
Chelsea should invest this January as well as offloading players who are clearly not part of Lampard’s plans, but there is no real rush. Although they do need a stronger choice at left-back and a fresh option on the right wing, work can still be done within the current squad.
César Azpilicueta is performing well on the left-hand side of defence, while Willian has had some very strong performances out wide. Players should be changing with the times, but Chelsea don’t need to rush straight back into the market after a year’s absence, however tempting the urge to spend is.
This is Lampard’s biggest test as Chelsea manager yet, as he must decide where to invest and where to save. The Blues have been eagerly waiting to spend their transfer fee for Hazard, and while the temptation is there it would be wiser to save the bulk of the available £150 million over the summer.
Lampard has the job security to know he will be at Stamford Bridge going into next season, giving him a long-term plan on how to reform Chelsea. He will have three months inbetween the respective campaigns to re-evaluate his squad, get together some more funds through player sales and invest in different players who may be available.
Summer 2020 is the best time to make the big-money signings that Roman Abramovich vies for, and waiting until the season is finished may be more beneficial in the long term. How Chelsea act during the January transfer window will be fascinating, more so over how it could dictate the situation at the club for years to come.