César Azpilicueta believes Chelsea approach the Premier League season with a renewed sense of unity as a result of Frank Lampard’s appointment as the squad embrace the new head coach’s insistence they take responsibility and mount a challenge despite setbacks over recent months.
The Europa League winners are under a transfer embargo and have lost their stellar performer, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid. Their predicament would suggest they risk falling further behind Manchester City, who finished 26 points clear of Maurizio Sarri’s team last term, and Liverpool, particularly with Lampard’s coaching career in its infancy.
Yet the discord which festered last season, most obviously among the supporters, has been banished by the return of Chelsea’s record goalscorer, and an air of positivity among fans and players accompanied the team even as they drew their opening pre-season fixture against Bohemian in Dublin on Wednesday.
“That feeling can be massive,” said Azpilicueta, who is expected to captain Lampard’s team. “It is true that last season, for periods, we didn’t give the fans what they expected. Our performances were not good enough and the reason they were not happy and negative.
“We turned it around and won the Europa League but you can see that this season all of the fans are very happy we have the gaffer back at the Bridge. Now we have to give it back by working hard on the pitch, by winning games. We are very happy to have him with us. I can’t add anything to his career at Chelsea as a player. But, over his first week in training, I’ve seen the way he wants to play, the way he wants us to feel the shirt, the way he wants us to train every day … it is something special.
“He was here for a very long and very successful period, and always set an example: how he wanted to break every record or improve himself in every session. To ‘feel the shirt’ was to go every day into Cobham to be better, to train hard, to behave on and off the pitch. We have to be grateful and feel the passion for the shirt. We are very excited and the only way we can carry it on is by winning together, getting the feeling back of being all together as a club. We have to take responsibility and know that there are a lot of things [going on] around us, but we have to work hard to get better.”
Lampard has seen players take up pre-season training in Dublin in two waves, and will have more than 30 from which to choose for Saturday’s second friendly, against St Patrick’s Athletic. Hazard’s move to Madrid constituted a blow but there is an acceptance that life goes on.
“Since I came here we’ve had people leave every season: Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech,” Azpilicueta said. “We could never imagine a Chelsea side winning a trophy without those quality players, and always knew replicating the success of the great players would be difficult.
“But every year we’ve had the chance to bring trophies back to the Bridge. Now we have something unusual – the transfer ban – which gives a chance for a lot of young players, players coming back from loan. Sarri is gone, his choice, and now we have to move on. We’re not going to win anything thinking about the past or complaining.”