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Chelsea have been surrounded by many new questions this season, but in Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing of Everton, the answers – once again – seem to have come from within.
The latest academy graduate to make his mark was Billy Gilmour, who backed up his impressive display in the FA Cup win over Liverpool with a first Premier League start that had Stamford Bridge purring.
The young Scot may only be 18, but his presence seemed to have a transformative effect on the rest of the side, who produced arguably their best performance of the season.
After a run of one win in six league games, which has allowed Manchester United to catch them in the race for a Champions League spot, it gave fans confidence they can end the season with the relative success of a top-four finish.
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As they serenaded boss Frank Lampard with “Super Frank” songs throughout the match, it also underlined their faith in him as the right man for the future.
Lampard admitted afterwards it was their most complete home display of the season, calling it a “nice little template” even if he doesn’t think they are favourites to finish fourth.
Yet after a rocky period that saw top-scorer Tammy Abraham injured, Olivier Giroud almost leave the club in January, Kepa Arrizabalaga’s form take a nose-dive and Willian’s contract talks stall, he praised the way some of his players had responded to a challenging couple of months.
He said: “The whole attitude and focus of the team felt really strong after the Liverpool game.
“We have to replicate what we did today to some degree every week. We had a good early patch in the season, we’ve struggled for consistency in this period, which is understandable. But we have to work as we worked today to show we can finish with strength and get better.”
Times have changed under owner Roman Abramovich. Everton are now led by former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, who was sacked following a second-placed finish, a season after a league and FA Cup double in 2009-10.
Now a top-four place and a potential run to the FA Cup final would be seen as success under a manager who is showing how a longer-term plan may be preferred by some supporters.
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Some might argue Lampard has benefited from having his hand being forced this season.
The club’s transfer ban last summer ensured he had to use young players, and the same could be said of Gilmour, who was picked on Sunday because Jorginho was suspended and Mateo Kovacic missed the game through injury.
Rather than shuffle his pack, however, he was willing to throw the young Scot into a significant game, and even moved him forward in the later stages as Reece James, normally a right-back, took a midfield role.
There was even a chance to introduce two other academy graduates later on in the game, Tino Anjorin and Armando Broj.
That sort of approach has been welcomed by supporters, like Martyn Berridge, who has been a season ticket holder for over 30 years and views Chelsea as a “work in progress”.
“There has been no discontent,” he told BBC Sport. “Everyone realises Lampard is doing a great job with what he’s got and it’s so refreshing to see so many young players coming through. That’s evident from all the fans who sit around me in the Shed End.
“If we win the FA Cup and finish fourth, it would be an absolutely fantastic season.”
Fellow fan Rod Hood added: “I had no expectations for anything this season. I’d have been happy with relegation because I believe we could have come back from that.
“I did expect we’d buy someone in January but what has impressed me most is the academy players coming through. It’s all well and good buying success, but you have to build success too and the problem with Chelsea is there has been no continuity.
“If they can give Frank time, build from the bottom up, buy when needed, it’s a recipe for success. Our academy shouldn’t be a feeder for other clubs.”
Hood said he has also been impressed by Lampard’s man-management skills as he combines the introduction of young players with the careful use of more senior professionals.
The likes of Giroud and Pedro were used sparingly earlier in the season as Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi made their mark. But with that trio out injured, the more senior frontline, including Willian, appeared rejuvenated on Sunday and all scored.
Those will be lessons that Lampard, still in his second season of management, will learn from.
He is also acutely aware of how much more Chelsea need to improve. A quick look at the Premier League table – where Liverpool are 34 points better off than his team – or the sobering first-leg Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich, or the recent form of Manchester United, means he still thinks his team are underdogs for a top-four place.
That approach will guard against any complacency in his squad, who are still to face European hopefuls Wolves and Sheffield United this season.
But should they reach the Champions League next season, and even win the FA Cup, the Chelsea boss will still want more the following campaign as long as Chelsea are “working in the right direction”.
A good message for Chelsea’s fanbase, whose trust in Lampard appears to keep growing.
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