Chelsea's Brilliant Two-Month Run of Form Spearheaded by Young Stars: Season Highlights

Duncan Mitchell
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Who expected Frank Lampard's Chelsea to be the force they were in the opening months of the season? Not many.

After a summer of serious outgoings in the form of talismanic Eden Hazard and the experienced David Luiz, some pundits didn't even have the Blues featuring in their top four predictions. The transfer ban also added another problematic element to preparations at Stamford Bridge.

And let's be fair, it didn't exactly go to plan on the opening day. A 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United looked to be an ominous sign for the long road ahead, but what followed over the next two months would go some way to proving the sceptics that they were too quick to write them off.

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After a well-fought draw at home to Leicester the following weekend, Chelsea went on to win 3-2 away at Norwich, recording their first league win under Lampard thanks to a brace from Tammy Abraham. Defensively, they weren't always secure, however, and Sheffield United exploited their weaknesses to good effect to take a point at the Bridge in late August.

However, it was Frank's young guns, who without the transfer embargo probably wouldn't have been playing, who were doing the business more often than not. Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount were all involved in a 5-2 demolition of Wolves on the road, with Abraham recording his first Premier League hat-trick.

Despite a defeat to champions-elect Liverpool, Chelsea would then go on a fantastic run on both domestic and European fronts for the next six weeks. League wins against Brighton and Southampton followed, plus an impressive victory away at Lille in the group stage of the Champions League where the experience of Willian and N'Golo Kanté proved vital.

As the leaves began to fall, Chelsea gathered further momentum. The introduction of American star Christian Pulisic in October gave the Blues another attacking threat and he repaid his manager's faith almost instantly with a perfect hat-trick against Burnley at Turf Moor.

Abraham and Pulisic had a fantastic understanding and both were heavily involved in subsequent wins against Watford and Crystal Palace, but it was the often maligned substitute Michy Batshuayi who scored a vital late goal against Ajax away in Amsterdam to ensure the Blues kept their Champions League fate in their own hands.

Signs of real progress in Chelsea's young players was evident but slight cracks began to show as injuries started to pile up. Kanté was struggling for fitness and with testing European and domestic fixtures approaching this was a real test of the squad's resolve.

If any night summed up the character of this young side, it was the crucial Champions League tie at home to Ajax at the beginning of November. Chelsea were up against it, trailing 4-1 after an hour, and defeat would have severely damaged their chances of progressing to the knockouts stage.

Cue one of the craziest 30 minutes of football you've seen. Cesar Azpilicueta clawed one goal back from a corner and then Ajax somehow managed to have two players sent off for second yellows in the same passage of play. As players from the visiting side hounded the referee, Chelsea remained focused on the task.

Jorginho converted the subsequent penalty and Reece James - another breakthrough youngster - drove home an absolute barnstormer to level the tie. It was an incredible comeback, obviously helped by the red cards, but nonetheless a sign that Frank's side were learning, maturing and had the fighting spirit that's so essential in winning sides.

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Let's not even discuss Chelsea's apparent 'winner' that was ruled out by VAR. It's too much. Yes, that match didn't spur the Blues on in the way they would have liked. In fact, the Christmas period was the most difficult stretch of Lampard's tenure thus far, but that result proved Lampard had compiled an excellent, youthful team.