With six Chelsea players leaving this summer as their contracts expire, some other teams around the world will be taking advantage of this and signing them as free agents. The debate has raged over whether or not Frank Lampard should or should not be given a new contract, but it looks likely that he'll be leaving to somewhere like AS Monaco or LA Galaxy. That got me thinking: is there anyone out there who will be a free agent this summer that Chelsea could sign?
So, I went to transfermarkt and searched for players whose contracts are expiring this calendar year. I'll analyse some of the players that I think could be useful for Chelsea. Here they all are: Players with contracts expiring in 2013
The first name that jumps out at you is, of course, Keisuke Honda. His contract doesn't actually expire until 31st December, but with only 4 months left on his contract by the end of August, CSKA Moscow may be forced to sell the Japanese international on the cheap. Honda burst onto the world stage at the 2010 World Cup, but has stayed at CSKA since late 2009. He's 26 years old, and unlikely to improve, but he's certainly good enough to start for Chelsea. You may well think "oh no, not another attacking midfielder" and while that is Honda's usual position, he's also very effective as a deep-lying playmaker*, a second striker, false nine or left winger. In a 4-2-3-1 he'd probably only play in the band of three, but in a 4-3-3 he could play midfield or on either wing. His free-kicks are a thing of beauty, and he has a good goalscoring record; 9 in 22 games this season, one every 209 minutes.
*Before you ask, I really wouldn't want him in the pivot. He could certainly play CM in a 4-3-3, though.
We should also take his nationality into account; he's Japanese and could work wonders for Chelsea's profile in Asia. Man United made good use of the Asian market last summer in signing Shinji Kagawa; Keisuke Honda could be Chelsea's answer to Kagawa. Honda would be a luxury, but a much cheaper and no less talented option than Isco or Andre Schurrle.
FC Twente's giant Brazilian centre-back Douglas will be out of contract in June, and he looks like a very attractive option for Chelsea. He's yet to play for either Brazil or the Netherlands (he's eligible for both) but is an excellent player; 6ft 4in tall but deceptively quick across the ground, very strong and outstanding in the air (you would expect so). Douglas was linked with Newcastle in January, but they opted to sign Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa instead. With Terry ageing and playing less, Ivanovic maybe being a right-back and Luiz maybe being a midfielder, Chelsea could well be in the market for a central defender in the summer. Douglas would fit the bill perfectly; he has age on his side, would come at no cost, is extremely solid in defense and is Brazilian. He's unlikely to be Chelsea's first choice, but he'd be a terrific choice in my opinion. He could be the perfect partner for David Luiz, and is well worth pursuing.
Volkan Demirel and Christian Abbiati
With Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario out of contract, Thibaut Courtois too good to bench and Petr Cech too good to let go of, Chelsea will probably be looking for a new goalkeeper to play second fiddle to Petr Cech next season. In all probability Courtois will get a third season on loan, and Delac and Walker will both continue their loans. Blackman isn't good enough yet, so we're likely to be getting a new keeper in the summer. We tried to get Jack Butland in the summer, which made plenty of sense, but he chose Stoke City instead. There are two options regarding the purchase of a new keeper; either get a young keeper with plenty of potential that can back up Cech now and Courtois later, or a grizzled veteran to be the understudy to Cech and mentor to Courtois.
Demirel or Abbiati would be the latter; Demirel is 31 and Abbiati is 35. Both are very solid, dependable goalkeepers that won't let anyone down when they're called upon. Demirel's Fenerbahce defense has conceded just 36 goals in his 39 games this season, keeping 15 clean sheets. Abbiati's AC Milan defense has let in 29 in 30 games, keeping 10 clean sheets. Statistically Demirel shades it, but Abbiati is playing in a more competitive league and Milan's back four of Abate, Mexes, Zapata and Constant hardly fills you with confidence.
If I had to pick one of the two, I'd go for Demirel, who's four years younger and just as good as Abbiati. Either would be more than fine, because both will have plenty of suitors and are huge upgrades over Hilario and Turnbull. The wonderful thing about them is they come at no cost!
Blackpool's 21-year-old winger Thomas Ince is the least likely signing on my list, because the chances are he'll be returning to Liverpool. He's young, quick, skillful and an excellent finisher. Ince is also home-grown and would qualify as U21 next season. Perfect! With Marko Marin maybe leaving, Lucas Piazon being loaned and KDB maybe going to Leverkusen, Chelsea could find themselves short of numbers in attack. Ince can play on either wing or attacking midfield and has been very prolific this season; 18 goals and 12 assists in the Championship is no mean feat for a 21-year-old.
Ince would fill a similar role to Eden Hazard; usually on the left wing, sometimes right wing or behind the striker, rotating position continually. He'd be a very useful rotation option, probably a bit better than Marin with more goalscoring threat. Given that he wouldn't actually cost anything, I'd love to have at Chelsea. It's a long shot, though.
The last player on my shortlist is La Masia graduate Marc Muniesa. The Spanish defender is another 21-year-old in his country's second division that will be out of contract this season. Given that Barcelona have inserted a €30 million buyout clause into his contract it seems a bit strange that they'd let him go so easily, but he suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament in July 2012 that kept him out for six months. He came back into the Barcelona B team in late January, and has played 6 games in the Segunda since then. At 5ft 11in he's on the small side for a centre-back, but like all La Masia graduates he's a superb passer and very composed. Strong in the tackle and blessed with an excellent leap, Muniesa is equally comfortable at left-back. Chelsea will find themselves in a dilemma at left-back when Ashley Cole's contract ends, and Muniesa clearly has the talent to replace him.
If Muniesa joins, I'd see him eventually playing an Ivanovic-esque role, rotating between centre-back and full-back. He'd probably need a season on loan first, but it's not every day you get the chance to snap up a Barcelona player for free.
My top targets would be Keisuke Honda, Douglas, Volkan Demirel and Tom Ince. With the four of them and some returning loanees, the majority of Chelsea's more pressing problems would be solved. We may not even need to spend any money this summer, if we take advantage of the free market.