LONDON: It is a sign of the changed days at Stamford Bridge that Chelsea go into a Champions League clash with Valencia on Tuesday as the example of stability and long-term planning.
The Europa League winners return to European football’s top tier under new management in Frank Lampard and having ushered in a new era where youth will be given its chance to shine rather than depending on the deep pockets of Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
There have been a few early bumps in the road for Lampard, a returning hero for the fans after scoring a club record 211 goals and winning 13 trophies, including Chelsea’s only Champions League crown, as a player.
A 4-0 opening day defeat to Manchester United and blowing a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at home to newly-promoted Sheffield United exposed the frailties in relying on an inexperienced core of players.
But Lampard’s faith in youth has largely been justified.
Led by a hat-trick from Tammy Abraham, Chelsea thrashed Wolves 5-2 on Saturday to move level with United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester in the early race for Champions League football again next season.
Fikayo Tomori also struck his first goal for the club at Molineux, while Mason Mount continued the form that earned him an England call-up with his third goal in five games.
All 11 league goals scored by Chelsea so far this season have now come from that trio, all of whom have graduated through the club’s academy but were shipped out on loan under previous managers.
“They should aspire and feel the opportunity is there if they deserve it, and they should see their team-mates doing really well and want to get in there,” said Lampard.
“They are there because they deserve it. It’s important we also respect the experienced players have played a huge part.
“If we are going to be successful this season we can’t rely on the young boys, although at the minute they are doing a good job!”
In contrast to Chelsea’s bright hope for the future, Valencia travel to England mired in an institutional and sporting crisis.
After guiding Los Che back to the Champions League in his two full seasons in charge and winning the club’s first trophy for 11 years by beating Barcelona to lift the Copa del Rey in May, Marcelino García Toral was sacked as coach last week by Valencia’s Singaporean owner Peter Lim.
Players, fans and the media reacted with fury amid calls for Lim to sell the club.
“Whoever took this decision not only trampled over you (Marcelino), but over a whole squad and fanbase,” said defender Ezequiel Garay.
Worse was to come when Albert Celades’s first game in charge on Saturday ended in a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Barca.
“We can’t hide what has happened in the past few days and how traumatic it has been for some,” admitted Celades.
That was the first time Valencia had conceded five goals or more since Gary Neville saw his side thrashed 7-0 at the Camp Nou in 2016.
Neville’s ill-fated four months at the Mestalla was another controversial call by Lim that backfired.
Celades is now the seventh Valencia coach in the five years since Lim’s takeover of the club.
Chelsea fans know how that revolving door of managers feels. Abramovich has been just as trigger happy with Lampard the 12th man to take charge under the Russian.
Time will tell if the former England midfielder’s hero status at the club will ensure Abramovich is more patient with his project to build for the long-term.
But for now, Chelsea are just happy to not be the ones cast in the role of a club in crisis.