It is unrealistic to expect Chelsea to win the Premier League or the Champions League this season, their second campaign under Frank Lampard – but progress, by now, should be evident.
Instead, Lampard’s side remain in transition.
There will be no Carabao Cup glory as Chelsea were eliminated on Tuesday night by Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, a manager who admitted before kick-off that he would be prioritising other competitions given the fixture congestion his side has faced so early in this truncated season.
By that stage Chelsea were in control against a half-strength Spurs courtesy of a fine goal from Timo Werner, his first for the Blues.
Werner, along with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, left-back Ben Chilwell and plenty more in reserve are all part of a stunning £220 million ($275m) summer refit that marks Chelsea out as contenders in the big competitions.
The penalty shootout which saw Chelsea knocked out had been perfect all the way to the 10th kick when Mason Mount fired wide of Hugo Lloris’ goal.
Chelsea could, and should, have won the game in 90 minutes having dominated possession but in the end were to blame for their own demise. Mount’s kick was poor but chances missed during the game ultimately came back to haunt Chelsea.
Like Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mount missed a chance to kill the game and poor defending led to a late Erik Lamela equaliser against the run of play.
“We were dominant and we want to score more goals at that point because of the amount of possession,” Lampard told reporters after the match.
“Tottenham will have felt that hard and they changed their game to go longer in their build-up which meant that our fantastic press in the first half wasn’t as relevant up the pitch. They turned us around and made us run backwards, rather than pressing forwards and that becomes really difficult.”
An understrength Spurs side first and foremost sought to survive on the night against an offensive-looking Chelsea. They have four matches in seven days, stretching from Newcastle last Sunday to Manchester United next.
That’s why Chelsea were heavy favourites despite being away from home, but again Lampard’s side could not convert their dominance of possession into anything meaningful.
Big spending followed the expiration of a UEFA transfer ban. The transition is proving to be slow. It has not been the start many had hoped for this season
Kai Havertz, despite his hat-trick last week in the same competition, has yet to truly convince in Premier League play even if he is named as the coming force in European football.
Thiago Silva, meanwhile, endured a nightmare debut against West Brom at the weekend. Chilwell finally got a run-out following injury but there is still no sign of the injured Hakim Ziyech.
Werner has been busy if unproductive in front of goal and reserve goalkeeper Mendy managed to impress on his first outing. However, the new arrivals need to click quickly at a club where expectations have justifiably been raised.
Owner Roman Abramovich backed his manager in the market at a very difficult time for the global game and the club has been positive about the legendary player being in charge ahead of the new season.
Lampard got his chance early after just a single season in charge at Derby County, but even after a good top-four finish doubts remain from the outside.
Going 3-0 down to West Brom at the weekend led to a half-time row between Lampard and Marcos Alonso, who was at fault for two of the goals. They came back to draw 3-3 in the second half but Alonso was watching from the team bus after being substituted and watched on from his sofa on Tuesday.
We are now 16 months into the Lampard reign but there’s still inconsistency, poor defending and missed chances. The signings will undoubtedly add quality but there has been no indication of that improvement as yet.
Lampard is trying to progress as a manager, admitting to learning lessons last season, but he is staking his reputation on succeeding at a club he loves and one which he represented with distinction as a player.
Every manager has had something to prove at one stage, Mourinho included, and Lampard needs to show signs that he can make Chelsea compete for honours in the near future.