Cast your mind back to October, if you can.
Liverpool were already stretching their lead at the top of the Premier League, Manchester City were looking beatable and a young exciting Chelsea were quietly churning out impressive results, largely thanks to the form of Tammy Abraham.
The 22-year-old had hit seven goals by the end of September and was joint top of the goalscoring charts with Sergio Aguero.
He was later called up by Gareth Southgate and scored his first England goal against Montenegro in November. Everything was looking rosey for the Blues academy graduate.
Fast forward seven months and Abraham’s long-term future at the club – and the insecurity surrounding it – is suddenly the talk of the town.
Despite recently extending his contract in west London until 2023, there has been no pay increase or extra incentives, signalling the jury may still be out about whether he will remain a blue moving forward.
Then there’s the form of Olivier Giroud and the impending arrival of Timo Werner, both of which make Abraham’s future as Chelsea’s lead striker look increasinly uncertain.
So why has his form declined so sharply since then turn of the year? Just two Premier League goals since Christmas doesn’t represent a good return for someone of his undoubted ability, but there are more factors at play than just technical form.
This is Abraham’s first full Premier League season for a top club and the demands on a lone striker are far more demanding that anything he would have faced in the Championship.
The amount of running, tracking and general physical exertion is multiplied and he could never really have been expected to sustain that for an entire season.
The signs of burnout began to rear their head when Chelsea’s form began to falter as the Christmas period took its toll. Extra games and Lampard’s refusal to play anyone else up front at that time meant Abraham was playing 90 minutes, twice a week, for a month. Eventually an ankle injury left him on the sidelines, allowing Giroud to grab his chance.
Since the restart, Abraham has found starting opportunities hard to come by and when he was handed 90 minutes against Leicester in the FA Cup, he looked off the pace and rusty. Although he scored against Crystal Palace a few days later, it’s apparent that Giroud is now ahead of him in the pecking order – for the time being at least.
In fairness, the Frenchman has been in exceptional touch, scoring all six of his goals since February. More crucially, he’s linked up superbly with Christian Pulisic and has bought the very best out of the American – similar to how he drew out the best in Eden Hazard last year.
Giroud’s ability to shield the ball, bring others into play and act as a pivot for attacking transitions has been crucial to Chelsea’s success, allowing the pace of their wingers – such as Pulisic – and advancing central midfielders to trouble the opposition.
And it’s not just offensively that the Blues have benefited. Giroud has always been one to give maximum effort, and his willingness to chase down and harass opposition shows that his selfless attitude is shining as brightly as it ever has.
That’s not to say Abraham doesn’t show the same dedication, but he’s simply not the same type of player – something that was alluded to recently by former Blues striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, in an interview with the Metro.
“What Abraham has to learn, look at him [Giroud] he brings other players in, he makes other players look better,” the Dutchman said. “With Abraham at times – especially in the last few matches – it’s been erratic. At the beginning of the season he was brilliant and it’s normal because it’s his first year at Chelsea at a high level. There will always be a difficult time for him and that’s what’s happening now. Giroud has been brilliant, a breath of fresh air.”
Then there’s the arrival of the prolific German Timo Werner for next season, who despite having the ability to play out wide, will most likely lead the line for the Blues – flanked by the impressive Pulisic and fellow new recruit Hakim Ziyech.
That isn’t to say Abraham doesn’t have a role to play next season, but the honeymoon period is definitely over and he is no longer sure to start nor merit selection based on being a young player.
Lampard has been firm but fair with his young players this season, praising them when they deserve it but being sure to demand improvement. And despite his impressive goal tally, it is clear that Abraham is not viewed as the finished article yet.
It remains to be seen whether Abraham is the future of Chelsea, given so many questions remain in regards to how Lampard’s side will line up next season. One thing he does need to do, though, is seize any opportunity to impress his manager between now and the end of the season.