FRANK LAMPARD admits Chelsea’s place among the Premier League elite is up for grabs.
The Blues finished third last season — but they visit Wolves today in a period of transition and under threat from a new wave of big hitters.
Wolves, Leicester, Everton and West Ham are tipped to make a push for the top six on the back of heavy investment and astute management — and have changing Chelsea in their sights.
Lampard said: “They should do. Because from the day when you could write down the top four at the start of the season, certainly now you can’t.
“A top six you can’t write down. Because the playing field of what we have got now where teams are investing heavily, you have to respect them.
“They are well managed, they have good players and they are competitive.
“We’ve seen it changing before our eyes because I remember last year people talking about Everton, Leicester and Wolves competing towards the top six.
“I think that is the landscape, it was always going to be the way.
“Particularly from our point of view, we always want to be competitive. But we’re all very honest about the situation here — Eden Hazard moved on and two number nines moved on.
“Younger players are coming in, we have to give ourselves a little bit of time, but we still want to be in there. But that’s not just the story, because you look at teams that have invested heavily — Everton, West Ham, Leicester.
“There are teams that will have ambitions to get in there, so that’s challenging for all of us.”
Chelsea blew a two-goal lead in their last game when skipper Cesar Azpilicueta came under fire for some sloppy defending.
Former Blues midfielder Lampard said: “I played with Azpilicueta, I know him well and he is the first player to stand up. He’s not just a bystander.
“The reason he’s captain is because of that professionalism and attitude.
“He will be the first one who wants to address things every minute of the day in training. I think he’s a big player for us and a big personality. I see no problem.
“I remember countless times in my career playing with better players than I was who had little moments that for whatever reason people wanted to talk about.
“The top ones come through it. Azpi will comfortably put up with that.
“He is a top player and I don’t think there are any major issues.”