Frank Lampard’s situation at Chelsea could “turn ugly” if they do not go on a winning run soon, says their former striker Chris Sutton.
The Blues would have gone top of the Premier League with a win at Everton on 12 December.
But Monday’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa means they have taken four points from five matches to slip to sixth.
“At the moment, they are a crisis club because they are underperforming,” Sutton told BBC Radio 5 Live. “They are flat and that’s why Frank needs to get a few wins under his belt and extremely quickly because it can, as we know, turn ugly at Chelsea.”
Club legend Lampard, 42, marked his first campaign in charge by taking Chelsea to a top-four finish and the FA Cup final last season.
He was heavily backed in the transfer market, spending more than £200m on Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy.
But Sutton believes Lampard has yet to get his side playing “in rhythm”.
“Whether we like it or not, this is a totally different season for Frank,” Sutton said. “The pressure is on; he has spent the big money. Now the pressure will build.
“I don’t want to go too early on Chelsea and Frank because if they win three on the spin, they will be up into second place and we’ll be saying ‘can they win the title again?’ and that’s the way it is.
“But I don’t think Chelsea can win the title. They have to get back to a way of playing where they really find their rhythm.”
Despite the negatives, Chelsea have lost just one of their past 14 Premier League home games, winning 10, with that lone defeat coming against Liverpool in September.
And they topped their Champions League group to set up a last-16 tie with Atletico Madrid.
During Chelsea’s 17-game unbeaten run – which ended in that defeat at Goodison Park – Lampard was at pains to point out his side were not yet the finished article.
And after his team were held by an excellent Villa side, he repeated that his players must fight through their current sticky form and kick on.
“This is our tough period at the moment,” he told Match of the Day. “We have to fight for it and we’ll be stronger for it.
“You want to get results at this point of the year. I could feel the players’ disappointment at the end because they want to win.
“A few weeks ago, people were talking about us as title challengers. Now it’s a difficult period. The new players are going to get better as they come along.”
Of those new players signed at expense in the summer, only Mendy and Chilwell started against Villa, with Sutton singling out former RB Leipzig striker Werner for criticism.
Werner scored 34 goals in Germany last season but has managed just four in his first 16 Premier League appearances – admittedly while being asked to play out wide.
“Timo Werner has been a massive disappointment and Kai Havertz has been too,” Sutton said. “When you spend big money, then the pressure is really on for Frank this season – and it wasn’t last season.
“I don’t think Frank has the overall say in the signings policy for Chelsea. I think there would be a transfer committee of sorts. In fairness, Havertz is a young man and a really talented player but we haven’t seen that yet at Chelsea.
“I think Werner has been a bigger disappointment. He has missed some really big opportunities. I know he is capable of playing a number of positions and playing them well. But I just wonder if Werner would rather play as a central striker.”
As if Lampard did not have enough on his plate, there is also the prospect that Chelsea’s hopes of finding their rhythm and form could yet come undone thanks to coronavirus.
Chelsea are set to host Manchester City in their next Premier League match on Sunday, followed by another home game against Morecambe in the FA Cup on 10 January.
But City’s game at Everton was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak in the camp, while League Two side Morecambe have also had two games called off.
Asked about the prospect of his side’s fixture list being disrupted, Lampard said: “We will have to cross that bridge if it comes.
“Covid means these are strange times for all of us. We all sense this month is going to be a tough period for all of us with the surge. Football will be secondary.