Frank Lampard would be "a fool" to say Chelsea can catch Liverpool and Manchester City quickly, but he is confident with new signings it can challenge in the Premier League again.
Due to Chelsea being under a transfer embargo when Lampard took over ahead of the 2019-20 season, the former England international has relied heavily on academy products during his first campaign in the dugout.
The head coach was eager to bolster his squad in the January transfer window but no new signings arrived at Stamford Bridge.
Despite the initial constraints Lampard operated under, his team sat fourth in the Premier League when the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, league leader Liverpool has 34 more points than Chelsea and City is nine clear of it.
Lampard is staying patient about guiding Chelsea to the level of the top two but is confident it will get there.
"I think I'm always the first to criticise myself, look at what we could have done better. You can always lean on certain games, certain results, I think you kind of have to get beyond that. It's more thinking I'm pretty happy with being in fourth position," Lampard told Sky Sports.
"It was always going to be a competitive, difficult year for us to be in and around that top four and we're there at the moment. It's more about how can we progress from here?
"We know we have some youth, we know we've been searching at times for consistency. So really, I've been looking and saying, 'Yeah, I'm happy with where we're at but I want a lot more.'
"But I think a bit of reflection time has been pretty good, not just for myself but also the staff and how we want to work, and can we get a bit more out of us going forward?"
On whether this Chelsea group can be serious contender for the Premier League title again, he said: "I don't want to jump the gun because what Liverpool and Manchester City have done in the last two or three seasons has been very clear.
"I think I'd be probably a bit of a fool to make that claim that we will bridge that gap very quickly, because there's been a lot of hard work at those two clubs of recruitment of top players, of great coaches, of players working and improving themselves.
"We have to be part of that process. Our way has to look different, we can't try and copy that, but we have to look at that. We have the good young players, we have had experienced players around them that have helped them this year, but we know there are little areas within the squad and some of that's us and what we have on the ground already and some of that's how we might look to recruit going forward.
"With this period now and what's going on in the world it's made it very difficult to plan too much on that front. We have to have different versions of plans going forward of how it looks. But going into this break I certainly felt like we were going in the right direction.
"With continued progress and work on the day to day attitude of the club, of myself and the players, and with potentially bringing in some players in key areas that we think can help us to try to bridge that gap to Liverpool and City then, yeah, I've got a strong belief that we can."
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