LONDON -- Frank Lampard has warned that Chelsea will need "an even stronger mentality" if they want to retain the Premier League title this season.
Antonio Conte led the Blues to a record 30 wins from 38 matches in the competition last season as well as a final tally of 93 points, the second-highest in the Premier League era. Key to their success was a 13-game winning streak that stretched from October to January.
Lampard is backing Chelsea to lift the trophy again this season but, as the driving force in the last Blues side to retain the Premier League in 2006, he knows how hard it is for a team to keep their place at the top of English football.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC, the BT Sport pundit said: "The mentality has got to improve. Chelsea were seven points clear, 10 points clear for a large part of the back end of last season. Now when you're starting from scratch again, you need an even stronger mentality.
"I'm sure there would have been meetings in preseason between Conte and his players letting them know that. They have be stronger and the squad needs freshening up, which has started to happen and I think will continue to happen.
"Every game becomes tough. Everyone wants to beat the champions and Chelsea are going to find that out again now."
Winning the trophy this season would make Chelsea the first team to retain the Premier League since Manchester United in 2009, and Lampard believes it would be an even more impressive achievement now. "It's the most competitive league in the world and it's becoming more competitive as we go on," he insisted.
"The investment of all the top teams is changing the landscape and it's not just that -- the quality of the league as a whole has improved. It's harder to win games comfortably and I don't think you're going to see teams have the sort of dominance that Manchester United and Liverpool enjoyed in past years."
Conte admitted prior to Chelsea's FA Community Shield defeat against Arsenal last weekend that he is anticipating the most difficult season of his managerial career, and Lampard believes the Italian's comments are as much an attempt to motivate his players as a challenge to the board to pursue signings.
"What managers say out loud is one thing, what they say in the dressing room is another," Lampard added. "I'm not saying they're completely conflicting. It's a fair comment to say that out loud because we're all talking about how the second season is more difficult than the first.
"Behind the scenes he'll be saying the same message, but in a different way: 'This is going to be difficult and this is how we overcome that, by working hard and by doing the extra bits even more than we did last year.'
"I think it's a challenge on all fronts. The choice of wording is something we all analyse a lot and I do understand what he's saying. It would have been difficult no matter what for Chelsea this year. They could have bought six or seven new players but everyone is upping their game, so I think it's a fair comment no matter what."
But despite the scale of the task facing Conte and his players after a frustrating transfer window, Lampard remains confident they can retain their title.
"It's a hard year to call," he admitted. "I went for Chelsea because they had such a good set-up last year. They knew what they were doing and their manager is very driven. I know they've lost a couple of important players but they've also added, and I think they'll add more by the time the window closes. I saw security in the way they played last year.
"You look at Manchester City and it's a lot of change there -- change for the better I'm sure, but will it all come together this year? I'm sure they'll be challenging.
"I'm not sure that Manchester United are quite at the level to win it yet. They've gone down a certain route with strength in their team and they are potential winners. Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool... you can go on. It was maybe a little bit of my heart and a little bit of my head to pick Chelsea."