Lampard's dilemma: Who should be Chelsea's No. 1 striker?

Lampard's dilemma: Who should be Chelsea's No. 1 striker?

Freshly minted Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has little time to waste while making a slew of first-team decisions.

Chief among them is the role of first-choice striker, and with just two of the Blues’ seven preseason fixtures in the bag, uncertainties at this juncture are par for the course.

Here’s what we know: A two-window transfer ban prohibiting the registration of new players is hamstringing Chelsea. Alvaro Morata has penned permanent terms at Atletico Madrid, and Gonzalo Higuain is gone after returning to Juventus following an erratic loan spell in the English capital. Eden Hazard has also left after accounting for nearly 30 percent of the club’s league goals last season.

The ban does allow Chelsea to recall any of the several dozen players currently on loan, giving academy products like Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, and Tammy Abraham a chance at first-team football, with the latter figuring into Lampard’s striker options. Michy Batshuayi has also been recalled from a second successive loan spell that yielded inconsistent returns, this time at Crystal Palace.

Chelsea is competing on four fronts, forcing Lampard to offer roles to Abraham, Batshuayi, and Olivier Giroud in varying capacities. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each option:

Olivier Giroud

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty
  • Age: 32
  • EPL appearances: 220
  • EPL goals: 78

Pros: Giroud is the most experienced of the lot, logging five-and-a-half seasons at Arsenal before making the jump to Stamford Bridge in January 2018. The World Cup winner was key to Chelsea’s Europe League conquest last season, and his aerial work is second to none (4.5 successful aerial duels per match, or a 69 percent success rate), especially when compared to Batshuayi (1.5, and 30 percent) and Abraham (3.2, and 41 percent).

Cons: The former Montpellier star is aging, and his minutes have been declining since appearing in all 38 of Arsenal’s league outings in 2015-16. With Lampard vowing to institute a high-energy brand of play featuring aggressive pressing high up the pitch, Giroud’s limited pace and movement may prove consequential, though he’s a sneaky good passer.

Michy Batshuayi

Charles McQuillan / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Age: 25
  • EPL appearances: 43
  • EPL goals: 13

Pros: Belgian international Batshuayi started in the 1-1 draw with Bohemians, and the former Marseille standout made a decent account of himself with a goal inside of 10 minutes. Batshuayi excels because of his athleticism, and his positional game and link-up play are also assets in either of Lampard’s likely preferred formations (4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3). He’s the best of the three options at keeping the ball, too, losing possession just 0.45 times per 90 minutes.

Cons: Batshuayi is worryingly inconsistent. No doubt due to a series of loan deals short on continuity, Batshuayi has failed to replicate his best season with Marseille in 2015-16 when he paired 17 Ligue 1 goals with nine helpers. The closest he’s come to scoring double-digit goals is when Batshuayi potted seven during a red-hot 10-game stretch with Borussia Dortmund in 2017-18.

Tammy Abraham

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty
  • Age: 21
  • EPL appearances: 33
  • EPL goals: 5

Pros: Abraham enjoyed a stellar loan spell at Aston Villa, bagging 26 league goals for the EPL returnees, just three behind Teemu Pukki’s Championship-leading 29. Abraham and Batshuayi worked well together when Lampard experimented with a 4-4-2 featuring a midfield diamond during a 4-0 win over St Patrick’s Athletic. “Between the two of them they have shown exactly what it is I want. Energy off the ball as well as on the ball and quality,” the gaffer said.

Cons: Abraham is the least experienced of the three, and while the quality of English football’s second tier is notable, it’s difficult to judge how his production at that level will project in the top flight. During his lone full season of Premier League football in 2017-18, Abraham recorded five goals and five assists over 31 run-outs with Swansea City. Pinpoint deliveries from wide positions are a necessity for the angular striker.