Joe Cole feels Chelsea are “genuine contenders” for the Champions League this season and says he would put money on at least one English side reaching the final in Istanbul.
Cole also sees the Blues as very much as part of this term’s Premier League title race and has described his former team-mate Frank Lampard as “faultless” with regard to the job he has done so far as boss at Stamford Bridge.
The club – currently third in the top flight – head into Wednesday’s Champions League match at Sevilla looking to seal top spot in Group E, with 10 points from four games and qualification for the last 16 already secured.
The last time they got beyond that round of the competition was their run to the semi-finals in 2013-14, two years on from lifting the trophy with Lampard wearing the captain’s armband.
Speaking about this season’s tournament at a press conference held by BT Sport, former Chelsea and England midfielder Cole said of the club: “I think they are genuine contenders.”
Cole, who also played for Liverpool, added: “I think all the English sides (the Reds, Manchester City and Manchester United are also in the competition), you can’t discount any of them from going all the way in the Champions League because of the quality and strength of our league.
“At the moment I wouldn’t say there are glaring weaknesses (in the Chelsea side). There’s areas to improve on, but if you look certainly since (Ben) Chilwell, (Edouard) Mendy and (Thiago) Silva have gone into the defence, the clean sheets have started to happen, we look safe and secure from set-pieces. Those things have improved dramatically from last season.
“I think there’s still areas where Chelsea can improve and they will improve, but I certainly put them down as contenders to win the Champions League, and the (Premier) League, this year.”
The 39-year-old added: “Bayern Munich I think are rightly the favourites, being the champions, but I would put money on English sides going deep in the competition and at least one of them getting to the final. I think it’s a good year for us.”
Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea last term, during which the club were under a transfer embargo, saw them finish fourth in the Premier League and as FA Cup runners-up. They also reached the last 16 of the Champions League, where they were eliminated by eventual champions Bayern.
Goalkeeper Mendy and defenders Chilwell and Silva are among a number of high-profile signings to have arrived since then, with Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech also coming in.
Cole said of Lampard: “I think he’s been faultless. He took over, wasn’t able to bring anyone in, and Chelsea lost their talisman Eden Hazard that summer, so he had to restructure the team.
“He brought six or seven players in through the academy, put down a style of play, an ethos, and they had a great season.
“Then all the signings he has brought in have made an impact, in the hunt for the league, qualified in the Champions League… I think he’s been faultless, and it’s great to see young English coaches get the chance and deliver – the same with (Rangers boss) Steven Gerrard. Two great icons of the game cutting their teeth in management and doing a great job.
“The expectation at Chelsea is to win trophies. Frank knows that.
“I think Frank will be treated the same as every manager – the same pressure he is under (is) you have to deliver at the club. But certainly I feel like they are well on course to winning trophies again and it is an exciting time for the club.”
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