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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Come September, when, all things being equal, the next Premier League season gets under way, expect a bottleneck in the queue to be Chelsea’s No 1 centre-forward.
New to the squad will be Timo Werner, who is entitled to regard himself as first choice up front for Germany, the 2014 world champions. Still under contract at Chelsea will be Olivier Giroud, first pick as target man for current world champions, France.
In the jostle will be Tammy Abraham, whose 41 goals – 25 of which came in the Championship while on loan with Aston Villa – since the beginning of the 2018-19 season have established him as a figurehead for a generation of young England players who approach the 2022 World Cup with legitimate optimism of reaching the final, even winning it.
And there will be the footballer earmarked to be the figurehead of the 2026 World Cup, Christian Pulisic, captain-elect of the USA, World Cup host nation in six summers’ time.
Quite the panorama of penalty-box experts, then, and, besides all that varied international pedigree, a spread of distinct styles and strengths that even Manchester City – whom Chelsea host on Thursday for Stamford Bridge’s first experience of a behind-closed-doors, post-shutdown Premier League match – might look at with envy.
City have a very high-quality Argentinian and Brazilian to operate at centre-forward – though they will be missing the first of them, Sergio Aguero, for a period with a knee injury – but perhaps less of the range of options at No 9 than the future Chelsea will call on.
It is certainly a very altered panorama from the one Frank Lampard, the Chelsea manager, inherited when he was appointed to his first Premier League head coaching position a year ago.
The club were under a ban from registering new signings, imposed by Fifa, and the up-and-coming players, such as Abraham and Mason Mount, who would fill the gaps at a club accustomed to big-spending had scant top-flight experience.
The likes of Abraham, Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James have since thrived on being promoted, but they would now be forgiven for glancing anxiously ahead and wondering if this season may not necessarily be the celebrated launchpad they have heard so much about, but one in which they were just useful stop-gaps.
Abraham, 22, Mount, 21, and indeed Pulisic, who is still nearly three months shy of his 22nd birthday, are obliged to look at the arrivals of Werner and Hakim Ziyech, whose transfer, for an initial €40 million (Dh165.9m), from Ajax was agreed several months ago, and see heightened competition for places.
Ziyech, the elegant Morocco international, looks a logical replacement for Willian, whose contract has been extended to cover the elongated season but whose future after July remains uncertain.
Pedro, the striker whose World Cup pedigree goes all the way back to his gold medal for Spain in 2010, will meanwhile be moving on to Roma next season, although he is available for all Chelsea’s remaining league and Cup fixtures in 2019-20.
But Werner, 24, can assume he has a distinct and more prominent planned role than Pedro, who has made just nine starts this term.
Gallery of new Chelsea signing Timo Werner
Lampard will expect all his strikers to develop, besides perhaps Giroud, whose strengths and shortcomings, at 33, are likely to remain the same ones that are appreciated by his club and national managers – plusses: his hold-up play, and strength in the air – and sometimes criticised – his lack of speed off the mark – by pundits and crowds.
At the moment, the Frenchman is being thanked for the goal that won Chelsea’s first match of Project Restart, 2-1 at Aston Villa, coming from 1-0 down and ensuring they will stay in the top four into the next round of fixtures.
At Villa, Pulisic, on as a second-half substitute, also struck his sixth goal of his first, injury-hampered Premier League season, five minutes into his first competitive action since January 1. Lampard is in no doubt that the American should be considered as much a finisher as Werner, or Abraham, in the future.
“He is hungry, and he has that ability to arrive in the [opposition] box," said Lampard. "There’s a difference between being a good player coming off the side [of the pitch], and the type of player who arrives in the six-yard box and hits big numbers [of goals] year on year. I really think Christian can be that.”
Updated: June 25, 2020 08:08 AM
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