Chelsea manager Frank Lampard is expecting a challenging campaign for his team in the UEFA Champions League.
The Blues qualified for Europe's premier club competition after winning the UEFA Europa League and finishing third in the Premier League last season. Their continental success also means they will be one of the top seeds for Thursday's draw.
Lampard is looking forward to being back in the tournament, though he conceded the club's inability to make summer signings will make things difficult for Chelsea on the European stage, per Adrian Kajumba of the Daily Mail:
"I think the Premier League is so strong and that's clear when you have two teams in the final. Manchester City are clearly an absolutely top team in world football. The English, we are strong at the moment. Hopefully that continues because that's great for us as Englishmen.
"We're happy to do that. It will be a big challenge for us. We know the difficulties of the ban etc and where we're at. But it shouldn't take away from the great challenge we have to try to do well in it. Talking to the players, they want to play in it and show what we're about."
The latter stages of UEFA competitions were dominated by Premier League sides last season, as Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final and Chelsea got the better of Arsenal in the Europa League.
As a result, it's not a huge surprise that ahead of the draw on Thursday there are some concerns from other nations about coming up against Premier League opponents:
AS English @English_AS
Buenos días! Ahead of the Champions League draw this evening, "English danger" is the headline on today's front page referring to the possibility of Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea being drawn in the same groups as Madrid, Atlético and Valencia. https://t.co/Xl0szbiggr https://t.co/Krk5ad380y
Lampard also has fond memories of the competition. He was part of the Blues team that sprung a surprise to win the 2012 edition, when they beat Bayern Munich on penalties in Munich:
Frank Lampard: "The best Champions League moment is the moment that Didier Drogba's penalty hit the back of the net in Munich. I didn’t enjoy the game, I didn’t enjoy it at all. But the moment that the ball hit the back of the net was sensational." #UCL | @ChelseaFC https://t.co/gzMESTwJHQ
Although Chelsea and their manager have pedigree in the Champions League, they will not be expected to go all the way this season, with the campaign set to be one of transition for the club.
As Lampard mentioned, they were unable to recruit players in the summer because of a transfer ban, which will also carry over to the January transfer window. The manager has opted to place faith in some younger players as a result.
There have been some challenging results for Lampard—most notably a 4-0 loss to Manchester United—but the team looked improved in Saturday's 3-2 success at Norwich City, with some youngsters starring:
The Champions League represents a more cutthroat environment, though, and it will be fascinating to see how some of the club's rising stars fare on such a high-pressure stage.
As a player, Lampard was so often the man who produced when it mattered for the Blues in this competition. It means the players working under him have a terrific reference point as they prepare to take the club back into the Champions League.