Frank Sinclair Football Insights
The Premier League finally makes a return with no less than nine rounds to be played in about five weeks, a festival of football for Premier League fans to look forward to. Former Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair takes time out to give his exclusive insights ahead of the restart for the top-flight in the English division, and don’t forget to tune in throughout the remained of the season as former players Kevin Campbell, Neil Mellor, Shaun Goater and Frank Sinclair preview all the action.
Chelsea re-start the season 3 points clear in 4th place – how big an achievement would it be for Frank Lampard to secure Champions League football in his first season?
Securing a Champions League spot would be massive for Chelsea this year. When Frank Lampard went into the managerial job at Chelsea, I think the remit would have been to aim for top four finish and definitely to try and qualify for the Champions League. Chelsea have been used to Champions League football and I don’t’ see why that would change. It was different because of the transfer embargo and Lampard bringing in young players – that would have changed the dynamic of how successful Chelsea could be this season but Frank has been an incredible job and finishing in the top four would be great for the club.
Chelsea play Leicester and Manchester City in their first 2 x games – how critical will these games be to wear they ultimately end of finishing?
Chelsea’s games against Leicester and Manchester City are almost six-point games. Manchester City are vying for a Champions League position and Leicester have been fantastic this season under Brendan Rodgers, so these will be ‘must-result’ games for Chelsea. They can’t afford to be beaten in either one of those games, they need results because the chasing pack is behind them with Manchester United. Manchester United were in good form before the pandemic paused football so they will be targeting one of those top four finishing places too.
How challenging will the current situation be for the Chelsea staff? How important is it that they are sensitive to concerns such as those raised by N'Golo Kante earlier this month when he decided not to train at Cobham?
Safeguarding the players is key to how Chelsea will proceed, but there will always be players who are less comfortable than others. For me, it’s the same throughout the Premier League – there’s no textbook response so as far as Frank is concerned, he’ll be doing what he feels best suited for his own players players and other managers will be doing the same across the Premier League. There’s no right or wrong way to go about this, it’s just however is most beneficial to your football club and the only time to reflect on over or under training players etc is afterwards.
What is your take on the transfer business Chelsea have done in lockdown?
I’m unsure whether Timo Werner is confirmed to sign for Chelsea as of yet, but Hakim Ziyech has been confirmed for a while now, they’re both very exciting players and if Chelsea can get them both involved, they’ll improve the starting 11 and the squad as a whole. The squad is looking really strong and Frank is obviously looking to bring in top class young players who aren’t at their best right now, but have room for growth.
Many people are full of praise of their signings of Timo Werner & Hakim Ziyech. Chelsea look like they could start next season with an embarrassment of attacking riches – out of Hudson-Odoi, Abraham, Mount, Werner, Ziyech, Pulisic, Gilmour – how do you even begin to pick a front 3 from that?
It will be difficult to pick a front three from Hudson-Odoi, Abraham, Mount, Werner, Ziyech, Pulisic and Gilmour – but Chelsea would rather have the headache of these riches than not have them. The sort of strength is needed across competitions from the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Champions League – wherever it may be, they’re going to need a strong squad to compete.
In addition to this, Chelsea are still being linked with Kai Havertz and Jadon Sancho – is there room for any more attacking talent in that squad?
If Chelsea bring in Kai Havertz and Jadon Sancho, it will be dependent on what happens with Willian and Pedro Rodriguez. There's been reports that both players may be moving on, so if they do, I think there's definitely room to maybe strengthen one more wide area by losing two real key players that have been at the football club for the last six, seven years.
Both Willian and Pedro have been fantastic for the club. Chelsea have been linked with Jadon and as a youngster is he grew up as a Chelsea fan, so I think that can help sometimes in in individuals making those decisions. However, Havertz and Sancho aren’t going to be easy to get out of their respective clubs because they are both at massive clubs as well.
The size of the price tag is going to be key to whether Chelsea think it's a value for money, and whether the other club decide that they can accept, the offer that's been put on the table.
With Chelsea doing such impressive transfer business, where do you think that leaves the likes of young English talent like Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek? Do you see either or both of these leaving in pursuit of first-team football?
Ruben Loftus Cheek will have a future at Chelsea, but Ross Barkley could be on his way out. Ruben Loftus Cheek has been unfortunate over the last 18 months with injuries but Ross Barkley’s situation is more about poor form and his behaviour outside of football. Before the pandemic paused the season, Barkley was in fairly decent form and that getting into the team and participating – especially in the Champions League.
But, a move to another Premier League club could re-ignite his career because he's only showed glimpses of what he was capable of doing when he was at Everton, but he has not been in consistent form in his in his time at Chelsea.
I think that Ruben Loftus Cheek has got a future at Chelsea, he's been at the club since he was seven years of age and he is liked so that would have gone up to Frank Lampard too.
What can Chelsea learn from previous transfer failures? They have previously had Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne on their books, only to not get the best out of them. How can they avoid repeats of this?
The first thing that you've got to recognize with that situation is if you're looking at the likes of Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne – they were very young players, when they first came to the Premier League, and very inexperienced in English football. So it was always going to be difficult for them at the time that they came to Chelsea, especially when the manager couldn’t afford to wait for their development - that's why both those players moved on.
Now with Frank in charge, I think you're seeing that there's a plan in place for the development of the youngsters to give them that experience sporadically and improve as players - learning on the job, without the pressures of getting results that previous managers have had. I think that takes care of that situation straight away.
Ben Chilwell is consistently linked with Chelsea – in spite of how close Leicester and Chelsea are in the league table, would that still represent a major step up for the England left back?
It's a difficult one obviously because Leicester have had a terrific season and you'd argue that they having a better season than Chelsea with the position they're in in the league.
Does that make them a bigger football club? I don't necessarily think so. I spent eight years in the first team of Chelsea and, and six years in the first team at Leicester City as well, and I think there's no argument that Chelsea is a bigger football club. That's why Leicester City have lost the lights of Kante and Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea with them arguably being Leicester City's best players at the time when they came to Chelsea and that shows the power of the club.
Leicester City are certainly not going to want to let go of. their prized asset and I think they would look at Ben Chilwell as a prized asset. He’s an England international, left backs are hard to come by and difficult to replace. It’s an interesting model and ultimately it will be down to the player whether the move happens or not.
Does signing Ben Chilwell have the potential to stunt the progress of Reece James given Cesar Azpilicuteta captains the side from right back?
Ben Chilwell moving to Chelsea wouldn’t necessarily stunt Reece James. Across all levels of English football I think you need two good full backs and between Reece James and Cesar Azpilicuteta, James will still get backs due to how busy the schedule is.
He'll get enough games and and get time to develop as a as a player, you've got to remember, it's his first season in the Premier League after a great loan period at Wigan. You can only see him getting better and better but at the same time, Chelsea aren’t not going to not bring a left back into because they think that it will stop the progress of someone like Reece James. I think he's got a great career ahead of him and I know he's really highly thought of at Chelsea as well.
As a young, relatively fearless team how do you think the lack of crowds at Stamford Bridge might affect Chelsea? Will a young team be fairly unaffected or do you feel they will miss feeding off the crowd at The Bridge?
If you look at the young players that have come in to Chelsea's team this season with the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Billy Gillmore I think you have to look and think that they've come from playing not in front of crowds when you play in under 23 football. There's hardly anybody watching those games, so that's something that won't be a problem with them.
I think the bigger problem will be for more established amd international players who have always played in front of crowds for the last 10-15 years. They will find that a little bit stranger than actually the younger players. But, I think it's down to themselves to galvanize themselves in the change rooms as as a group of players to perform under the circumstances.
Leicester are 8 x points clear of 5th placed Manchester United as the season resumes. How big a blow would it be now if the Foxes were to fail to secure Champions League football for next season?
From Leicester’s perspective, they would be devastated to not secure Champions League football after the effort they’ve put into this season. It’s been a remarkable season with Brendan Rodgers and for me it’s been the best season since they won the Premier League. As far as I’m concerned Jamie Vardy has been effective, there’s strength in a side and they’ve been difficult to beat which has shown in the points they’ve accumulated this season. If they stumble at the finish line, which I don’t expect to happen, they’d be very disappointed.
Leicester return to action with games against Watford and Brighton – how important is it that they start the season again with at least one win from these games?
Going into those two games against Watford and Brighton - they are two teams that are fighting down the other end of the table to survive in the Premier League and they are very difficult games, which could be potential ‘banana skins’.
I think they would be expecting to try and get six points out of those two games not just to win just one of them. There are some tough games ahead I believe they still have to play Chelsea as well at some stage. But for me, I think Leicester have to go into these games thinking they can win six points here because if they get them I think that will more or less secure them finishing in the top three.
Leicester are being linked with a move for Southampton centre back Jannik Vestergaard - do you think he would be a good signing?
If Jannik Vestergaard leaves Southampton to go to Leicester City, it is probably a sideways move or obviously a slight incline for a club that are more ambitious in trying to win thing. If Brendan Rodgers signs him I think he will do well - when you look at the record of the type of players that Brendan Rodgers normally brings to his football club, you know 95% of them go on to be very good players and work well with him.
I'm not seeing enough of him tested at this high level to say whether he be successful or not that would be down to him if he went to Leicester. He certainly has the stature and the size that you would, be looking at for a centre back. Vestergaard seems comfortable on the football as well., so I don’t see many reasons why he wouldn't be good, but ultimately it would be down to how well he can defend when he goes to a different unit and joins a different football club - if that happens.
If Leicester are resigned to losing Ben Chillwell, would replacing him with Nicolas Tagliafico from Ajax represent good business?
If you get any young players from Ajax, more often than not, it's good business because you're not paying through the roof to sign them. More often than not, they're coming from a fantastic development background and Ajax have been renowned for developing young players for many years.
If you look at the record of how many of them go on to be top class players in different continents of the world as well. I don't think it's much of a gamble. Nicolas Tagliafico certainly looks exciting - he's everything that you look at, and that you'd want in a modern-day full back. I don't see any reason why he wouldn’t be a decent replacement.
Leicester seem to have a fantastic scouting operation – successfully replacing the likes of Harry Maguire, Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez. Who do you think has been their best signing of the past few years?
Choosing Leicester’s best signing is a difficult one but you can’t look further than Ngolo Kante. They've had some great players that have had massive impacts , when you look at the likes of Mahrez, Schmeichel, and obviously, Jamie Vardy. For me, if you’re looking at the key signing that Leicester made when they won the Premier League, you can’t look further than Ngolo Kante.
There's no coincidence that he won the league with Leicester City and then went on to Chelsea and won the league again. It just showed in the performances that he puts in and how he affects a team There'd be other different arguments for players who were at the spine of that team that won the Premier League with Schmeichel, Kante, Drinkwater in the midfield and obviously Jamie Vardy and Mahrez aswell.
It was a fantastic team that was put together and basically went under the radar to win the title. But, for me, if I had to pick one particular player, I'd say Ngolo.
Jamie Vardy has been at Leicester for 8 years. How much of an impact has he made for the future of Leicester?
Jamie Vardy has impacted football full stop. it's the way that he's got to the top - there's not many players that go from non-league football and then and reach the pinnacle of football play for play for England and last in the Premier League.
Sooner or later, there's sometimes something that there was a reason why you weren’t playing, and perhaps you get found out after a period of time but for him to sustain the standards that he's reached at Leicester City from the background that he's come from, it's been remarkable.
For me, Vardy has opened the door and the ambitions of other players that are playing tat lower levels – they’re thinking, if Jamie Vardy can do it, and I'm prepared to work as hard as he has, then, , I could possibly do it as well. That he gives hope to players who find themselves playing at lower levels and they thin to themselves – I've got a natural ability to get myself playing higher, just like Jamie Vardy
Soyuncu has received a lot of interest from top clubs, how much of a loss would he be to Leicester?
I'll be very surprised if Brendan Rodgers let Soyuncu go. They've had Maguire leave last season and Soyuncu was the replacement for him and I think he's been fantastic this season. I don't see Leicester as a selling club, financially, I think they're in a good place. I don't think they need to get rid of their best players, I think it's more of a case of, if the player wants to leave because such a big club is coming in for him then less to say you might have a problem. But generally, they certainly don't need to sell the lights of Soyuncu because of financial reasons, etc. So, I can't see him leaving Leicester.
Leicester seemed to replace Harry Maguire fairly easily – do you see anyone in the current squad that could step up and fill the Turk's position if needed?
When you look at Soyuncu ,18 months ago, if someone had asked was he good enough to step into Harry Maguire’s shoes during the time he was playing in the reserve games or just on the fringe of the first team, most people would have said no chance because of the way Harry Maguire was playing. However, he's proven that when you do get the opportunity, some players can take it so, he would be be a difficult one to replace
What I would like to see at Leicester is a few more youngsters getting an opportunity, when you look at Leicester, more often than not, the players have come from other clubs and there's not really been, a background or players coming through the under 23s, breaking into the first team and sustaining a place in the team. This hasn’t happened regularly enough at a club like Leicester, so I'd like to see some younger players, get into the team.
If Leicester quality for European competition, what additions do you think they need to the squad to successfully compete on two fronts next season?
Leicester would need additions in most areas if they qualified for Europe. They’d look to improve the defensive area, the midfield and they’d love to get another striker in. Whether that striker would be someone to play alongside Jamie Vardy and help him or, or to be a replacement for him when he needs a rest because obviously, when you start playing in Champions League competitions, it totally changes the dynamics of your season.
It changes the rest you have in between games, the preparation for the next game and they come thick and fast once the Champions League is up and running as they will, find out if they do qualify for it. I think they’d have to get strength in depth really, to try and improve the squad but keep the standards and the quality as it as it is in the starting 11.
Describe the job that Brendan Rodgers has done since he arrived from Celtic?
Brendan Rodgers has done an incredible job since he he took on Leicester in sticky period. After doing so well in winning the Premier League I think the club went into a little bit of a decline with losing the likes of Mahrez and Drinkwater, these top players who they were fighting to keep hold of – including Jamie Vardy, as there were talks about him going to Arsenal. Then they lost McGuire.
So Rodgers came in at a really difficult time and he’s turned it around and has made Leicester City compete for the Champions League. No one would have guessed that before the season started, but you look at his career as a manager – being terrifically successful at Liverpool and getting very close to winning things there. He did a remarkable job at Celtic as well so there's no real surprises that he’s been successful so far at Leicester.
How much will potential injuries for both Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood affect Burnley's restart?
If Burnley lose Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, it would leave a big impact as they are number one and number two strikes. It will only leave two other strikers in the form of Rodriguez and Vydra, who came into a little bit of form before the pandemic paused the season.
He was playing really well and the stop start of the season probably would affect him more than anything because of the confidence that he had at the time scoring some good goals. But it's going to be a difficult one because, we know Sean Dyche and Burnley like to play with two strikers. And if you've got to Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood out of the team., it leaves you quite bare.
Burnley face Manchester City as their first game back, how much of a challenge will this be?
Playing Manchester City is a difficult game and it’s not the one that you wish for. I'm sure Shawn touchwood would realize that. But then, you know, I think Sean Dyche is very realistic in how he doesn't go into games expecting to lose them, but there's realism in what he thinks he can get out of games.
I don't expect him to be looking at the Manchester City game as one of these games that is in his list of games with a possibility of three points. I'd say they'll go into this game, try and get something out of it. They will try to win the game, but I don't think you'd be overly disappointed if they lost. I think it'd be more about the performance more than the result in that game against Man City.
AC Milan and Roma look to be interested in Jeff Hendrick – would Burnley be better to keep hold of him and extend his contract?
Jeff Hendrick has been a great servant to Burnley. Hendrink sums up the type of player which Sean Dyche wants. He wants a midfield player that will work for the team and is technically very good.
Sometimes, the workload that they cover sort of covers the actual technical ability of some of those players at Burnley. I've been fortunate enough to go into Burnley quite a few times and watch training, shadow the manager and get his ideas on these players. He certainly think that Hendrick is a terrific player so I don't think he particularly wants to lose him. Ultimately, it's down to the player and I'm sure you know there's been players that the manager will look at to replace Hendrick if and when he does go.
How good has Sean Dyche been for Burnley in the 8 years he's been at the club?
Sean Dyche has been unbelievable. He's not only just going into a football club and rearranged the team and made them be able to compete at the top level in English football but I think he's restructured the whole mindset of the club from top to bottom. Who Sean Dyche describes as a Burnley player or potential Burnley player has to have certain attributes and a lot of it is the mentality of a player.
It’s about how they carry themselves and the respect that they have in and around the football club. I think this is all mirrored by the personality of the manager. I've had certain conversations with him about what he looks for in a player and there's a lot of stuff that he goes into before signing a player - and he doesn't often get it very wrong.
So when you look at what he's done from the time that I was at Burnley when they were mid table top 10 mid table to top 10 championship side to now being regularly in the Premier League and finishing in the top seven and top eight. I think it's been a fantastic job by the manager.
What would success look like to Burnley this year?
Burnley are in the top 10 at the moment - the target would have been to try, as most football clubs have to, to improve each season and get that little bit better. Obviously with the standards of the Premier League it’s very difficult to do that when you haven't got the financial backing to get the best players in Europe. So I think, Burnley finishing the top eight is a remarkable season again, and Sean Dyche would be fairly satisfied with a top 10 finish again.
General Premier League
Do you think the football authorities have handled Project Restart and its timing correctly?
This situation that we're in, in football is, is unprecedented. There's nothing to put it up against and say, Well, this is how this was dealt with last time. I suppose you can look at other leagues that have come back and started like the Bundesliga, etc. and seeing how well they dealt with COVID. I think we should look at that that is led by the government and not by actually the football authorities, so it's really difficult to answer this question.
Only time will tell, fingers crossed that we get through this period and get the Premier League finished so that we can start putting plans i place for moving forward into the next season. The longer we go on the more we'll learn about COVID-19 and how to prevent it happening again, so I suppose it's difficult because you can't really point the finger at the authorities because we’ve never been in this situation before.
If you were a player currently, based on what you have seen in the media, would you feel comfortable returning?
If I were playing now, I would feel comfortable returning. There's certain players that wouldn't like to take the risk for certain reasons and you have to respect their reasons, especially when it's for their families health and that comes into question. You can't blame them for letting football come second. For me personally, I would put the trust in the football club that I was at that they're doing everything to make sure that they're safeguarding all the players. If I was still playing now I don't think I'd have a problem with coming back.
Do you think we will see pay cuts and/or salary caps as football uses the crisis to correct some of the more inflated finances in the game?
I hope we start to see pay cuts or salary caps in football, and I don’t say that because I look at players and I think they earn too much in this day and age. In my time playing football, we had fantastic money that was relevant to the era that we were playing in and it's the same for the players now - the best players, and the best players in the world, should be the best paid players in the world. But I look at the future of the game and, not talking about Premier League level as the future Premier League is secured with TV rights and sponsorship's.
I look at what makes football ‘football’ for me and I've worked in non-league football for six or seven years, and I know how difficult it is on a day to day basis to run these football clubs. When you go into League One and League Two they're dependent on on the Premier League helping them financially, along with the EFL . So I wouldn't have a problem with there being a little bit of salary caps and, and obviously, bringing down the financial money that's going out of the game through agents and individual contracts. I think there's enough money to go around to still have a great life in the game and help others out too.
As things stand, who would you tip for PFA Player of the Season and Manager of The Season?
For PFA Player of the Season and Manager of The Season, I think you don't look any further than Liverpool really, for both of those awards. For manager of the season, for me that would be Jurgen Klopp. For player of the season I think either Henderson, Virgil Van Dijk or Mane - I think those have been the three top players for Liverpool this season as well. There's been some fantastic performance from a lot of Liverpool players, but I would go with any of the three - I wouldn't be surprised if any of them won it.
As the season restarts, who are you tipping to secure the Champions League positions?
The top three will stay as is with Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester – they’re going to be hard to catch. The fourth position will come from an individual battle between Chelsea and Manchester United. All of these teams are in the position they are in for a reason and I don’t think their form changing all that dramatically.
Which three clubs do you think will get relegated?
Norwich, Aston Villa and West Ham will get relegated this season. Norwich are bottom, Aston Villa have an uphill battle trying to get out of the bottom two and out of West Ham, Bournemouth and Watford, I’ve got a feeling that Bournemouth and Watford will survive this season leaving West Ham to be relegated.