I think any serious discussion of buying and selling players needs to start with an honest appraisal of the current squad situation. It is also important to think about the medium-long term squad situation; the young players that might step into a more prominent role and the older players that will need to be replaced might have an impact on the types of players the club try to target.
With that in mind, I've taken the liberty of preparing the following tables as a visual indicator of where reinforcements might be required. Some players are listed multiple times if they are capable of playing more than one positions (in a capacity that extends beyond ‘emergency depth') and primary positions are highlighted in bold. Additionally, player ages are included because it's always worth keeping track of. I've made a point of detailing some of the youth players that might be making a case for first team consideration in the next few years - I'm sure there are some that others consider I've missed, but I think I've got all of the important names for now.
So, let's take a position-by-position look at the squad.
Petr Cech is the incumbent starter here and, at 31 years old, he should be capable of performing at a high level for a few more years. The only reason that Cech should be concerned for his job is that his eventual replacement, Thibaut Courtois, is already on the roster. As far as I'm concerned, though, there's no need to rush things here. Courtois has said that he's happy to go out on loan for another season and Cech is still getting the job done, so that would be my preferred arrangement for this season.
In terms of backups, I'd be inclined to keep Delac and Blackman to fight over second and third choice between themselves. Walker could be loaned or sold, but I don't see much of a future for him at Chelsea either way.
Hilario, along with Turnbull, is out of a contract and should be allowed to have a nice long nap. As an old man, he'll probably need it.
I'll come right out and say it: John Terry isn't a starting-calibre player anymore. He still has his uses, of course, but I think the club would be better off for him to be the ‘best 3rd choice CB in the league' rather than relying on him to be anything more than that. Ivanovic, for me, is better suited to RB and should only be called in as emergency depth in the middle and Cahill is another guy you don't really want starting games on a regular basis.
Bruma's questionable ability and Kalas, Ake and Chalobah's aptitude for other positions and Christensen's youth mean that there's not any imminent help coming up from the youth-department, so signing a starting quality CB should be a priority this summer.
Right back is looking pretty good, now and for the future. Azpilicueta and Ivanovic are a solid starter and backup (in whichever order you prefer) and whilst neither is likely to set the world on fire with their play, it's unlikely that the transfer market is going to yield much more. Kalas, Wallace and Kane will all get their chance to contribute in the future too, so this position looks like it should be strong for a good few years to come.
Cole is 32 and only has one year left on his contract. Bertrand has had highs and lows in his time at Chelsea so far - he might turn out to be the answer, but he's not a guy that I'm comfortable handing the starting job to at this point. Van Aanholt is a player that has really impressed this year on loan and could probably stay to be part of the rotation this year. Overall, I think the club should be okay at left back this season, but if Cole leaves and one or both of Bertrand and van Aanholt struggle it could be a sticky situation going forward. With that in mind, I don't consider LB to be a high priority signing, but if there's a good prospect available and I've got some of my £100m left, then I might pick one up as an insurance policy.
How good does this look? Mikel gets a lot of stick, but he's certainly a capable player. Romeu has been unfortunate with injuries, but at 21 years of age he should hopefully be able to bounce back and have a good season. David Luiz and Essien can chip in if we really need them to and Chalobah and Ake look like they both have the chance to become something special.
Lampard got his extension, so this situation isn't quite as dire as it could've been, but it's still quite bad. Frank is still on the down-slope of his career and Essien is likely not far behind him. Some feel that Oscar can make the transition to a deeper role, but it's still just a projection at this point. McEachran and Loftus-Cheek are developing nicely, but probably still quite a way from making a real impact, so this is a position that really needs to be addressed this summer.
Wow. That's a lot of quality young players. It says a lot when Mata is the old man of the group at the age of 25. Signing another player over the age of about 20 to occupy this area of the pitch *cough*Schurrle*cough* seems like a pretty silly idea.
This is an interesting one. Most people seem to be advocating a high-impact signing at this position and, in a vacuum, it's difficult to argue. I go back and forth with the idea of selling one or both of Ba and Torres, but ultimately I don't think that changes a great deal. Lukaku and Feruz have been absolutely dominating their respective levels and look like good prospects for the future. Lalkovic and Bamford still have a chance of developing, but I'd have liked them to be a little further along by now.
With the breakdown of the current squad complete, I've prioritised Chelsea's needs as follows:
- LB (if there's a good, cheap one available)
- Good, young players - because you can never have too many of those
So...it's signing time!
1) Marco van Ginkel, Vitesse Arnhem - £15m
It's well known that Chelsea and Vitesse have a good relationship and I'd like to take advantage of that with my first signing of the summer. Marco is the kind of central midfielder that can do it all - he works hard in defence, has speed and stamina, gets forward to score goals, has an impressive passing range and at 20 years old he's got a bright future ahead of him. Van Ginkel has all the tools to be successful as either a pivot player in a 4-2-3-1 or a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-3-3 - a versatility that could come in handy if Chelsea keep up their habit of changing managers every five minutes.
And for whatever it might be worth, I'd written this before Chelsea were tenuously linked to him earlier.
2) Raphael Varane, Real Madrid - £35m
I really wanted to do something a little less predictable here, to keep things more interesting, but Varane probably has the best combination of talent, youth and availability. There have been numerous reports of buyouts ranging from £25m to £150m, but regardless, I think £30m is a reasonable price. If this signing actually happened, it would give Chelsea arguably the best CB pairing in the league (although Kompany and Nastasic might have something to say about that)
3) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, AS Saint-Étienne - £15m
Second-highest goalscorer in France last season (only Zlatan had more), 23 years old, can play on the wings or as a lone striker. The important thing for me here was not to target players that were too expensive. We have a bunch of young guys that should be able to contribute in relatively short order, so I don't think there's any need to break the bank for a Falcao or a Lewandowski. Aubameyang looks ready for a step up and should, at the very least, be a good short-term option until Lukaku is ready to be ‘the guy'. Also he has an awesome name and I've kinda missed having the guys with silly haircuts this year.
4) Lars Bender, Bayer Leverkusen - £25m
Lars is another versatile CM that can play multiple positions. He's the kind of player that can help a team to maintain possession in the centre of the park ans is calm and composed under pressure. He won't make many highlight reel passes, but he also doesn't give the ball away very often - an underrated skill in the modern game.
5) Bernard ‘Junior' Malanda-Adje, Zulte Waregem - £5m
Young Belgians are becoming somewhat of a trend lately and for good reason. Junior is an 18 year old defensive midfielder for Jupiler Pro League runners up Zulte Waregem. He's only played one season so far at the ‘top' level and is still quite raw, but, like his compatriot Romelu Lukaku, he has the combination of size and strength that could see him become a success in the Premier League given enough time. Junior was heavily linked to Fulham in January with the deal allegedly falling apart because the London club refused to meet the €6m asking price. One for the future, I'd be inclined to leave him in Zulte on loan, especially since they've got a chance at European football this season if they can make it through the playoff rounds.
Deciding who to loan and where to send them is, arguably, even more important to the long term future of the club than the signings we make in the summer. With that in mind, there will clearly be a lot of debate on this topic over the coming weeks. As football fans, we tend to be a little optimistic when deciding which players are ready to come back and compete with minutes for the first team, so I'm going to be a little more conservative to provide an alternative point of view.
1) Romelu Lukaku
I'll start with what is probably the most contentious decision on this list. Whilst a number of people here are convinced that the young Belgian is ready to come back and save us from another year of Torres and Ba shaped mediocrity (as comments such as "If We loan Lukaku again next season....FIRE THE WHOLE DAMN BOARD." would suggest), I find myself inclined to disagree slightly.
To clarify my position, I don't doubt that Lukaku could come in and be a more effective striker than either of those we had to endure last season. I do, however, think his development would be better served by another year away. Despite his impressive goal tally at West Brom, Lukaku is still pretty raw. He has also never had to experience trying to dismantle a parked bus - something that he could have problems with if he came back to Chelsea. Finally, the Daniel Sturridge Experience (which needs to be a freeform jazz band, by the way) has taught me that just because a player has had a successful loan spell doesn't mean they will necessarily hit the ground running. I'm really excited by the prospect of what young Romelu could become, but I'm just not sure he's there yet.
With that out of the way, discussion inevitably turns to which club we should entrust with the honour of partaking in some harcore Lukaction. The clear choice for me would be Swansea. They play an attacking brand of passing football that more closely resembles Chelsea's approach than some of the other potential suitors, they'll be playing in Europe next season and they'd probably be glad of a target-man for Michu to play off of. Failing that, I'd maybe look to Everton. They've got no strikers worth mentioning, no money to sign any and are no real threat to Chelsea's league position.
2) Thibaut Courtois
Another day, another Belgian. Courtois seems to relish the opportunity for another loan and, whilst many would like to see him play for a Premier League side to get some experience of handling big strikers and aerial battles, he has spoken of his preference to compete in the Champions League with Atletico next season. I'd rather not make the wrong decision and risk alienating him, because he seems to be an intelligent young man, but I might be tempted to have a chat to him and see if we could meet halfway. I think Schalke could be an ideal loan destination for Courtois next season and strikes a good balance between experiencing a type of football more similar to the Premier League whilst also enabling him to remain in the Champions League without having to send him to one of our direct rivals. The fact that he'd instantly be Schalke's best goalkeeper is a bonus too.
3) Nathanial Chalobah
Where to start with this lad. He's been an absolute beast for Watford this season and is almost certainly ready for a step up. As I'm being pretty conservative with my youngsters, he's not going to step all the way up to the big club just yet, but I'd be trying to get him some European experience if possible. Frankfurt and Stuttgart are among the clubs that I would consider for his next move.
4) Nathan Aké
Watford are gonna have a Chalobah shaped hole in their midfield next season and I've got just the man to fill it. Nathan has said he'd prefer to stay at Chelsea next season, but, I think that's a pretty silly idea. Let's send him somewhere that he can get regular minutes and see how he handles it. If he's not happy with the Championship, then maybe he can go somewhere in the Dutch league (I wonder where...) or perhaps a bottom-half Premier League side might be interested.
I think we'd all have liked little Josh to be a bit further along in his development by now, but for various reasons it hasn't happened. With that said, he's still capable of brilliance and I haven't completely lost hope for him just yet. A good loan spell at Middlesbrough has set him up for a higher level of competition this season, so I'm sending him to Vitesse. We've just poached their best midfielder, so it's only fair that we offer them a (short term) replacement. If they can deal with the qualifying rounds, he'd even be in with a chance of European football.
6) Thorgan Hazard
Hazard the Younger has made a pretty good fist of things at Zulte and at this point, I think he'd benefit from a spell in the Premier League. Crystal Palace have managed to get promoted and lose their best player at the same time, so I'm gonna get on the phone to Ian Holloway and see if he wants to borrow a replacement.
7) Lucas Piazon
I'm finding this one of the more tricky loan destinations to figure out. Tempted to just give him another year at Malaga because he seems to have done pretty well there. It feels like a cop-out, but I haven't got anything better so we'll go with that.
8) Islam Feruz
Feruz has been ridiculously productive at every level he's played so far in his short career, such that I'd like to see him head somewhere on loan rather than settling for the golden boot in the NextGen series again. Wilfried Bony's now (almost) inevitable departure for pastures new seems like the ideal opportunity to slot the young striker into a more challenging situation. This one would probably be a win-win-win for Chelsea, Vitesse and Feruz.
9) Patrick Bamford
This guy had a good showing in League 1 for MK Dons (when he was healthy) last season. Not convinced he's a guy we'll ever see rocking a Chelsea shirt in meaningful games, but I'd pick a Championship side without much up front and see how he gets on for next season.
10) Tomas Kalas
After a successful spell with Vitesse, I'd like to see Kalas in the Premier League if possible. I don't have my heart set on any particular team, but he probably wouldn't have too much trouble beating out the likes of Phil Bardsley to start at Sunderland as an example.
One hand giveth, the other taketh away. No reason Wallace can't slot straight into the void Kalas leaves at Vitesse. Seems like an easy enough decision to me.
12) Todd Kane
He'll go somewhere. Maybe a newly promoted Premier League side? I'm 2800 words into this thing and I can't really think anymore.
I'm sure there are other loanees that I've forgotten, but these should be most of the important ones.
Staying at Home
Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen can stay with the youth squad for the moment and maybe get the occasional first team appearance in games that don't matter much. Or, to put it another way, they'll be 2012-13 vintage Nathan Aké.
Surplus to Requirements
I'm done with Kakuta now. I had high hopes for him a while back, but it's becoming more and more apparent that he's not going to crack the Chelsea first team. It's probably the right decision for both him and the club to cut their losses and let him find a more permanent home somewhere else. Ditto Lalkovic, Walker and Bruma, actually. They can go too.
In addition to these departures, another non-homegrown player needs to get gone. I'm sure many would like that to be Fernando Torres, but due to the number of players on the squad in various positions, the odd man out is Marko Marin. Whether that be on loan or a sale at a loss, there's just not room for him on the squad right now with KDB's return. Whatever we do with Marin here, it'll be widely criticised in the media and, truth be told, I do kinda feel bad for him. Unfortunately for him, though, the team comes first and he'll either have to be shipped out somewhere or risk getting Malouda'd.
So that's a (far too long) journey through the current Chelsea squad and, after stopping to pick up some hitchhikers and a taking a scenic route through youth development, you're probably now wondering where it actually got us.
Well, here it is, your 25 (plus a few) man squad for 2013-14. Bold for homegrown and underlined for U-21.
Not too shabby, huh? For those of you that still might have some questions about how these might be deployed in practice, I've taken the liberty of preparing a few diagrams.
The new manager would have a lot of options with this lot. A variety of formations and a lot opportunity for rotation. The centre of midfield and the centre of defence should be much improved. There's an extra body at striker without having to spend a fortune on someone that might be surplus to requirements when Lukaku is eventually ready to come back. Young players get loans that should help their development and hopefully can still compete for a starting job at Chelsea a few years down the line.
I'm sure some will disagree with my decisions here, but that's the nature of football.
And for those with a short attention span:
Buy - van Ginkel, Varane, Aubameyang, (Lars) Bender and Junior Malanda
Loan - Lukaku, Courtois, Chalobah, Aké, T. Hazard, Piazon, Feruz, Bamford, Kalas, Wallace, Kane
Sell - Kakuta, Lalkovic, Walker, Bruma, Marin
Win - Everything
Enjoy the life, Geezers!
It seems from the comments that I haven't explained my Varane point quite as clearly as I would like. His inclusion was based on the assumptions that he has a buyout of less than €55m and that Roman and Jose could convince him that he'd rather be at Chelsea than Real (which, given that London is a better city to live in and that players seem to adore Mourinho didn't seem like too much of a stretch). If one or both of those things are untrue, then obviously he isn't an option because Real don't have any reason to actually sell him of their own volition.
If this sad truth is one that I eventually must accept, then I'd focus my efforts, in no particular order, on Mateo Musacchio, Kurt Zouma, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Ezequiel Munoz.