If you’ve caught yourself actively liking Chelsea this season, you are not alone.
Russia’s billions, a double helping of Jose Mourinho, and a liberal garnish of John Terry ushered in the most successful era in the club’s history… and made them the enemies of English football.
Chelsea didn’t care one iota about their unpopularity – it comes with the territory of winning multiple trophies – but this season, under Frank Lampard, they’ve endeared themselves to more than a few neutrals.
So how did the detestable pantomime villains become – dare we say it – the most likeable team in the Premier League?
Lampard’s legendary status at Chelsea looked under threat when he was announced as Head Coach in the summer.
The club’s all-time leading goalscorer arrived to a potentially testing environment.
Chelsea finished third in 2018/19 and capped Maurizio Sarri’s season off with victory in the Europa League final.
There was no hiding the dependence on the irreplaceable Eden Hazard and with the Belgian’s departure, coupled with the FIFA-imposed transfer ban, many were fearing the worst for Super Frank‘s debut managerial season in the top flight.
An inexperienced manager dealing with inexperienced players in an increasingly more competitive league had trouble written all over it.
Yet heading into last weekend’s game against Lampard’s old club, West Ham, Chelsea were comfortably in fourth place with spirits never higher around Stamford Bridge.
As a part of our Football’s Front Lines series, we headed to west London to get a better idea of what has changed at the club and to see how fans are enjoying this new, and possibly improved, Chelsea.
As it turned out, West Ham’s visit proved to be one of Lampard’s worst games in charge as the visitors left with all three points following Aaron Cresswell’s second-half goal.
A result which, this time last year, would have been met with jeers and inquests into N’Golo Kante’s position, Sarri’s philosophy and Alvaro Morata’s ability.
This season, there is a sense that something special is being built and there is no better man to lead the transformation than their record scorer, whose name was sung by the adoring Chelsea fans even after he scored against them back in 2014.
At full time on on Saturday, there were no boos or miserable early leavers, just stunned bewilderment.
Chelsea had been free-scoring in the league and had won the hearts of a lot of neutrals with eye-catching away wins at Southampton, Burnley and Wolves.
Under Mourinho, they were the kings of 1-0.
The Portuguese tactician’s pragmatic approach became a staple of the Blues’ play, even as they cycled through numerous coaches.
This season, under Lampard, Chelsea have conceded 21 goals in the league — putting their defensive record in the bottom half.
In the 2004/05 season, they conceded 15 goals throughout the whole Premier League campaign — a record that still stands today.
President of Chelsea’s Croatian fan group, Filip Grljevic, says the club has made the right call on seeing the holistic change at Stamford Bridge.
He added: “One of the most important things when Mourinho was around was we won first, worried about people’s feelings second.
“Maybe now we are sacrificing the result for the beautiful game for the youngsters, for the whole picture.”
The club appear to be right behind Lampard and the changes he is implementing.
Patience among Premier League powerhouses is hard to come by and Chelsea are notoriously quick to pull the trigger.
Carlo Ancelotti won the double in his first season and was sacked after finishing second the following year.
Roberto Di Matteo won the Champions League in May 2012 and was gone before he could open his advent calendar the same year.
There has been method to the brutal madness which has seen 15 managerial changes in 16 years.
Each time a manager goes, Chelsea bounce back — often boasting a major trophy to justify their decision.
The supporters couldn’t complain with this approach as it made them one of the most successful English clubs of the modern era.
One thing all Chelsea fans were growing very tired of was the lack of opportunity given to their undeniably talented academy players.
The young Blues won the FA Youth Cup for five consecutive years between 2014 and 2018, they also won the UEFA Youth League in 2015 and 2016 while they were runners-up the following two years.
In short, Chelsea had the best academy in Europe for five years, but, apart from the odd Ruben Loftus-Cheek appearance, you wouldn’t have known it if you followed only the first team.
The introduction of the youngsters has been applauded, not just Chelsea fans, but the wider football world.
Die-hard Blues fan Adam Rocca explained: “I think everyone enjoys seeing young footballers play.
“And also the fact they are young English players, everyone supports England, everyone wants England to do as well as they can.
“With Frank Lampard coming in and these young players, Chelsea are becoming a more attractive club.”
As a player, Lampard rallied against Chelsea’s unpopularity; he is considered an intellect and was very rarely involved in any wrong doings on or off the pitch.
Didier Drogba was prone to a dive, Ashley Cole was more than partial to controversy and John Terry was, well, not everyone’s cup of tea.
Lampard was immune to criticism from even Chelsea’s venomous haters and that good will has translated to management — neutrals would not be so kind if Terry were at the helm.
Chelsea’s new manager bounce has softened over the past ten days, with losses at the Etihad and at home to West Ham sandwiching an away draw with Valencia.
Before that, Chelsea had won six league games in a row, along with an away win against Ajax and an incredible comeback in the return fixture, which ended 4-4.
The Blues did get back on track on Wednesday night with Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, both academy products, scoring the goals in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
The pair, along with Fikayo Tomori, have been standout performers this campaign with all three earning England call-ups ahead of the Euros.
The Chelsea of old would have shipped them out to Vitesse, not to be seen until the following summer.
It begs the question, how many Chelsea youngsters have slipped through the cracks over the past decade?
Filip reckons that dozens of Chelsea players were unfortunate to not be at the club during this era.
He says: “I always wondered what would happen if Lamps was in charge five or ten years ago.
“What about all the players like Daniel Sturridge, or Josh McEachran? They had some of the biggest potential in the UK, but nothing happened with them.”
Expectations are understandably modest this year.
Anything beyond the knockouts in the Champions League would be considered a bonus but the priority for the season is returning to Europe’s top competition for next year.
But this is where the problem lies for Chelsea.
Are they content with top four and a sustainable system under Lampard?
Arsene Wenger’s final years at the Emirates were mocked for ‘achieving’ that feat.
And if there is one club a Chelsea fan doesn’t want their side compared to, it’s Arsenal.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, Chelsea have won more trophies than any other English club and that silver-thirsty mentality won’t have changed overnight.
What was forced to change was the recruitment (or lack of) in the summer which left the Blues with just Christian Pulisic walking through the doors at the Cobham training ground.
It looked as though there was going to be heaps of pressure on the young American, as Hazard’s direct replacement.
Instead, Lampard eased him into the side and the 21-year-old now has six goals and six assists in all competitions.
Longevity is the aim for Chelsea now.
Lampard has something of a spine that he can build a team around.
The real questions will come when the transfer ban is lifted, which could be as soon as January with the club appealing FIFA’s decision.
Do the club revert back to fast food football?
Or do they build something in Lampard’s image and try and create a footballing story like that of Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Weneger.
With Arsenal and Man United sacking their managers like it’s going out of fashion, it would be ironic if Lampard’s Chelsea became the next great footballing dynasty.
Check out more from our Football's Front Lines series