First things first, nobody’s pretending it was a perfect season. We know where the club is, where it needs to improve, and how much work is ahead in order to close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City.
That being said, it was a season of vindication. It was a season that proved that giving young, home-grown players a chance is a choice, not a by-product of winning or of job security, and it was a season that confirmed that you can be successful while playing them.
Tammy Abraham’s fifteen Premier League goals made him the club’s top goalscorer, while adding two more to also put him out in front in all competitions heading into the FA Cup Final. None of those came from the penalty spot, leaving him with the PL’s second-best non-penalty goals per ninety minutes rate, behind the quite frankly absurd Gabriel Jesus. He’s got a way to go yet but that is more than good enough to say he delivered this season.
Mason Mount has made 51 club appearances this season and few players have been as integral to the way the team wants to play as he has become. His fourteen goal contributions (eight goals, six assists) reached a peak on the final day of the season as his sumptuous free kick and sharp assist at the end of the first half booked the Champions League ticket. He proved, beyond all doubt, he can play at this level.
Fikayo Tomori was perhaps days away from being loaned back out again, only to be thrust into the spotlight as a fourth-choice centre-back who, for a while, became the best defender at the club. He made his England debut in late 2019, started almost half of the available league matches and, although injuries kept him from adding to that, his absence was most certainly felt after the restart.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James all came into the season nursing serious injuries that affected their development. The best is yet to come from all of them, but the fact they were able to recover and find a way to contribute on the pitch – James making 15 starts and finishing the campaign looking like his old assertive self at right wing-back – is not just promising but an affirmation that you needn’t be a superstar to come through and contribute. They all have superstar potential but, for their respective circumstances this season, they did enough.
Throw in Billy Gilmour’s brief but exciting breakthrough, debuts for Tariq Lamptey, Ian Maatsen, Marc Guehi, Tino Anjorin and Armando Broja, and opportunities on the coaching staff for Jody Morris, Joe Edwards, Chris Jones, Eddie Newton, James Russell and more academy graduates on the other side of the touchline, and you start to see the picture coming together. Comparisons to previous seasons are flawed from the outset, but coming into a debut top-flight campaign as a sophomore manager, shorn of a player many believed was the club’s best talent in Eden Hazard, and with a transfer ban preventing broader changes to the squad outside of the pre-arranged arrival of Christian Pulisic were obstacles no other new boss has had to deal with.
You play with the hand you’re dealt, but you also take gambles. You choose you get rid of David Luiz and put your faith in Tomori. You choose to lead the line with Abraham instead of Giroud or Michy Batshuayi. You choose to keep James, injuries and all, and send Davide Zappacosta on loan. You give Hudson-Odoi more minutes than Pedro, and you make Mount the fulcrum of your team on and off the ball. You choose to give more academy players their first-team debut in one season than any other manager in Chelsea history, and you qualify for the Champions League when many outsiders would have laughed at the very idea back in August.
There is work to be done and new signings to be made but, for Frank Lampard and the academy at Chelsea, this is a moment to reflect upon with satisfaction. The kids are good enough. Fact.