With the comments of Jose Mourinho about Chelsea's strike force, as well as the recent moves of Mata, De Bruyne, and now Luiz, it's clear that the club will be taking this transfer window quite seriously. With that being said, I wanted to punch out a quick analysis of our current situation to pick out the gaps, so that nothing the club does moving forward will surprise us. Why? Well, I bet you're as bored as I am with no more top-level football to watch until June 12th. Moreover, you may be as sick as I am of tabloids and page-click whores randomly spewing transfer-rumor-shaped vomit all over the interwebs. Here you'll find reasoned guesses. If you want wanton speculation so aimless it reminds you of an infant boy learning to piss standing up, the Daily Fail won't let you down. Sure, my predictions may turn out to be no more right than "Sky Sports understands..." but at least they'll be rational from this moment in time. And maybe, 2 months from now, we'll look back on our time together here and just laugh, and laugh.
I'll break down our midfield positions by 4-3-2-1 and then 4-3-3, mostly because one of these is almost certainly what Mou will employ next year. I won't be speculating as to transfer fees, but I think we can afford just about anyone we want at this point, so I'm not too concerned about that. Because the transfers out are generally more difficult to predict with all the moving pieces that can affect them, I'll not deal too seriously with that, preferring to focus on the players I believe will have legitimate impacts on our performance next season (so the German Messi is out).
1. Romelu Lukaku (21 years old)
2. Fernando Torres (30)
3. Demba Ba (29)
4. Patrick Bamford (20)
Assessment: Romelu has exceptional potential, but needs a better supporting cast than the names on this list. Torres is still highly unlikely to go, due to high wages, older age, and increasing comfort with mediocrity. While Ba has played second fiddle fairly quietly this season, he probably wants more, and frankly Chelsea need more from their strike force as a whole. As a piece that can be swapped, Ba goes out. The ultra-in-form Bamford should continue his exploits in a six-month loan in the Prem (no doubt the recently-promoted sides will be drooling over his most recent displays in the Championship, so they seem as likely a place as any). The six months leaves him as a free option to reinforce the strike force should that be necessary come January. Given the differences in age (20-21 vs 29-30), Chelsea might want to think about adding an alternative in his prime.
One of these men would kill you in your sleep without batting an eyelid. The other would wake you up first. - via cdn.images.express.co.uk
The Best Guesses: One of either Mandzukic (28) or Costa (25) seems like the most likely possibility, and either would do nicely to improve upon our current choices. Very few other options out there make sense, as Balotelli (23) seems to be unappealing to Mourinho, Ibrahimovic (32) has ruled out England (and would cost more than we want to spend for another aging striker), Cavani (27)/Falcao(28) have just made their big money moves to France and are still settling into their new clubs. Realistically, the Croatian or the Spanzilian are the only choices that I think we're considering at this point.
Wild Cards: Edin Dzeko (28) has had himself a rather nice season at Man City this year. Should City look to adjust their squad, they'll have to shed excess weight, and the Pellegrini-endorsed addition of Alvaro Negredo just might push the Bosnian into that category. It's a long shot, but City might be needing the cash enough to pass him on to us. He's not really Mourinho's type, and that may be the biggest barrier.
Gonzalo Higuain (26) has had a bit of an up and down season at Napoli, with injuries preventing the Argentine from ever really getting up to speed. Mourinho seemed to enjoy Higuain's attacking prowess at Real Madrid, and the two departed the club together with similar attitudes. The sticking point would likely be the price, as you can't imagine Rafa Benitez wants to part with his shiniest toy. The cost would probably be too high for a player not known for his durability.
Oh, hey girl. I didn't see you there. - via 31.media.tumblr.com
This is where things get super fun. Do we keep Ramires and/or Mikel? Do we shift our AMs? If we play a 4-3-3, who goes where? Well, fortunately, we can extrapolate from this season to learn quite a bit. With the back four pretty much settled as the same four we saw for most of this season, you wouldn't expect Mou to switch to a 4-3-3 based on that consideration. Given the players we had, the 4-2-3-1 made the most sense. Let's assume he wants to stick with that for a moment.
LM/LW: Eden Hazard (23), André Schürrle (23)
CAM: Oscar (22), ??
RM/RW: Willian (25), Mohamed Salah (21)
DMs: Nemanja Matic (25), Jon Obi Mikel (27), Ramires (27), Marco Van Ginkel (21)
Assessment: Now, Willian isn't really a right-side player, but he was utilized there to good effect. I haven't included the likes of Moses, Marin, Piazon, Atsu, and Thazard because I doubt very much that any one of them will be a part of our premier league squad next season. I suppose Piazon has perhaps the best chance in the 4-2-3-1 of providing something like backup to Oscar. Not having a backup to Oscar is troubling, although we know Willian can fill in should the need arise. However, if the "dreamy" Brazilian were to sustain a long-term injury, I'd like to see a more fitting option here than his compatriot. Moreover, given Oscar's ability to conduct play from deeper areas of the pitch, he could make a suitable partner to Matic in games where incisive play is necessary (i.e. when we face the parked bus). For me, the talent of Hazard and Schürrle belongs in the team. This means playing one of the two out to the right or Hazard in the middle, if Oscar is shifted back. I enjoy the versatility here, but I think it could be strengthened by adding Piazon (who can play LW/CF/CAM), though I doubt Emenalo and Mourinho will risk it on the youngster, as I've alluded to above. Either way, the 4-2-3-1 gets labeled "no purchase necessary" in terms of attacking players.
However, even if Oscar is occasionally used in a deeper role, the times when he isn't would have us staring at a set of alternatives that looks pretty weak. Perhaps MVG will rise to the Ballack-sized challenge, but until we can be sure, we should be looking to the market for other options.
The Best Guesses: There are a fair few options, especially now that we have Mata and Luiz money in the coffers (sigh). Paul Pogba (21) is most probably the most exciting option. The idea of his dynamism in midfield alongside the disciplined and assertive Matic is really enough to make any semi-conscious supporter question the limit between fantasy and reality. Another few names being tossed around seem semi-plausible; I might be in the minority when I say I think Javi Martinez (25) may truly be available for a fair value, and if he is, he probably represents the best possible option for upgrading the link between defense and attack (in springing the counter, and passing through the opposition). It's hard to know if Sami Khedira is integral to Ancelotti's plans for the future at Real Madrid. I included Khedira in this category because we know of the mutual admiration Khedira and Mourinho have, but it really will come down to whether or not the German is willing to try to force his way out. Is Yaya Toure actually available? Probably not, but it makes no sense for Chelsea to not at least try to entice the immaculate Ivorian away from his non-hand-shaking, only-birthday-caking, no good, very disrespectful club.
Wild Cards: While Ilkay Gündoğan (23) just signed a contract extension in April, despite injuries plaguing the majority of his time at BVB this year, stranger things have happened in football. I'm a big fan of the versatile German, but I'm not sure Mourinho, Emenalo, and co. are as well. Luka Modric (28) is unlikely to move on from Real Madrid shortly after snatching La Deciembre or whatever, but there's no doubt that he is a supremely talented player that the Special One covets, even if he's even uglier without the hair (which apparently is a big deal).
He suited up. I had to include at least one photo. - via www.africatopsports.com
Mourinho has utilized the 4-3-3 in the past to great effect, and one might argue it better suits the defense-and-attack holistic approach of the Portuguese manager than our current setup. Hypothetically, let's assume Mou shifts the squad to a 4-3-3. Where are we then?
LW: Hazard, Schürrle
RW: Willian, Salah
RM: Ramires, MVG
CM: Matic, Mikel
Assessment: The retention of Mikel becomes even more important here, should we fail to acquire another holding midfield type. Ramires could perhaps be more effective in this position, but Willian less so. Hazard playing as a true winger might free him up to cause more havoc going forward, but it also isolates him more, which has positives and negatives. We still have the dilemma of whether to play Schürrle or Hazard on the left or whether to include the German. Oscar can operate from deeper regularly, while also more easily being able to contribute to defense and attack in equal measure. With the right partners (and Ramires' energy and legs comes into play here), he could have essentially free roam as he does with Brazil. If I'm Mourinho, I'm most concerned with making that work for my über talented "number 10."
Best Guesses: Both Pogba and Martinez still make the most sense here, and their explosive forward runs become even more crucial. As he's been cited a few times in the news, Koke (22) is hard to ignore. He's had a stellar season with Atletico, and is perhaps one of the most versatile young midfielders in the game, able to play almost anywhere in any midfield system with relative comfort. He makes more sense as a forward-thinking orchestrator than either Martinez or Pogba, but is less of a good fit for the pivot than either of those two. There's no doubt as to his work ethic. I honestly can't put my finger on why, but I feel that neither party has all that much interest in the other. If you're wondering why I've left Vidal off of all of these lists, it's because Juventus won't part with both, but may part with Pogba. Vidal is more of a talisman and probably also more talented/more important to the team.
Wild Cards: Ross Barkley (20) would make a very interesting addition. He could back up Oscar in the 4-2-3-1, and has all the ball skills and vision required for smart play in the middle of the 4-3-3 as well, either on the left or right. The hesitation is only because of his similarity to Oscar. His work rate is fairly high, and training under Mourinho could really turn him into a more well-rounded and consistent player. Stumbling block is probably the fee, as Everton will be desperate to keep him. Barkley himself might be hesitant to leave the club for the bigger stage, seeing how well it worked out for
David Moyes Marouane Fellaini Jack Rodwell. Speaking of staying away from the limelight, I've seen Axel Witsel's name thrown out there by WAGNHers, as well. The 25-year-old Belgian big man is a very solid midfielder with great ball skills, and he's always seemed to me like what Fellaini would be like if he had touch with his feet instead of just his head and chest. Yeah, the feet are kind of important in FOOTball, Moyes, but hey, you'll get it next time... maybe. One gets the sense that the classy Witsel is far more interested in leaving his club than supremely wealthy Zenit St. Petersburg is in letting him go. With a big salary and a few years left on his contract, he'd be a very tough one to snag, and if you add to that the need to adjust to the BPL from freaking RUSSIA, I just don't think this makes much sense for us.
Solid. Tight. Organized. Such sexy adjectives, don't you think? Chelsea's defense was back to it's spectacular best again, and excepting the accursed Sunderland match, Stamford Bridge has returned to its fortress-like demeanor. That's thanks in large part to a shift in focus for the midfield, but regardless, the back line stood up well this season.
LB: Ryan Bertrand? (24), Patrick van Aanholt? (23)
RB: Branislav Ivanovic (30), Cesar Azpilicueta (24), Wallace? (20)
Assessment: Well, I think we're set at center back for the next season or two. I'm sure the captain will pick up a few knocks along the way, and we'll get a chance to test the mettle of our depth. I have always really liked what Kalas can bring to the table. He's fast, reads play well, and makes decisions quickly and correctly. I think we can safely sweep aside the Raphaël Varane rumors... for now, at least. It's important to note here that Cesar Azpilicueta, despite how well he's served the club on the left flank, is most certainly a right back. He's not comfortable swinging in crosses with his left, which makes him less of a threat. In a 4-3-3, Azpi might be required to join the attack more often. Ultimately, he will be taking Branislav's place, who at 30 doesn't have much time left anyways. I imagine we'll go with the same back four again this season at least though, barring any major purchase. Wallace may or may not stay with the club during this time, and Bertrand and PvA are additional question marks.
Best Guesses: Frankly, because Luke Shaw (18) really might be the best left back in the world in a few years time (and then have another 8 seasons before he even begins to decline), this might be the time to buy. Loan him back to Southampton for 14/15 if that's what he wants, but don't fail to secure the future like we did with the strikers the last few seasons. You may disagree, but given the money we'll have, why not buy the best? We'll have to see if the club share that sentiment. Either way, it makes sense to look at the market as far as left backs go. I'm sure we'll also secure 2-30 young studs who may have a future here, but the left back position will be the soonest spot we need filled. Alberto Moreno (21) is a promising option as well, and you'd hear no complaints from me. It's worth noting that Shaw or Moreno could be loaned back to their respective clubs for a season (which would make the whole situation easier to negotiate), which would give us a chance to test Bertrand/PvA a little further as they fill in for Dave. Regardless, neither of our current options is going to displace the right back, which just about says it all right there.
Wild Cards: As I've alluded, it would surprise me a bit to see Chelsea commit to Varane (21). Price and current depth at CB just don't add up to this move at the moment. I would also be surprised to see Chelsea try to snag Filipe Luis (28) from Atletico Madrid. The club just aren't going for older talent unless they have very promising youth lined up at the role. As we don't, paying for what would be an expensive senior player at the position doesn't match the pattern we've been seeing from Emenalo and his team. I really like Filipe Luis, and he's certainly proven himself more than most, but he's not really what we're looking for. AM want him, he likely wants to stay, so let him. Basically, I'm having trouble seeing Chelsea make any truly surprising moves here. The best question is: to Shaw or not to Shaw?
So now that we've been through the likely course of events, let's factor in the new additions:
CBs: John Terry (33), Gary Cahill (28), Kurt Zouma (19), Tomas Kalas (21), Kenneth Omeruo (20)
LB: Luke Shaw? (18), Ryan Bertrand? (24), Patrick van Aanholt? (23)
RB: Branislav Ivanovic (30), Cesar Azpilicueta (24), Wallace? (20)
DM/CM: Nemanja Matic (25),
Jon Obi Mikel (27), Paul Pogba (21), Ramires (27), Marco Van Ginkel (21)
LW: Hazard (23), Schürrle (23)
RW: Willian (25), Mohamed Salah (21)
CAM/CM: Oscar (22), Ross Barkley (20)
ST: Diego Costa (25), Romelu Lukaku (21), Fernando Torres (30),
Demba Ba (29), Patrick Bamford (20)
Thibaut and Petr. Thibaut or Petr. Petr. Thibaut. The drama.
Assessment: Hilario has taken the role of Club Mascot to a whole new level. I'm pretty sure he was caught in the lion suit in the last home match of the season. What a weird thing. Anyways, Schwarzer wants to stay, which is great, because the club will probably either loan Courtois or sell Cech this summer. They'd probably rather do the former, but the latter will bring monies and such and... feels. I look at that picture and it makes me feel blue. Jamal is a satisfactory third keeper, because what is that anyways?
Best Guesses: After winning the World Cup and saving 3 of 5 penalties in the final, Courtois will demand to have the starting role or be let go. Within 48 hours, Chelsea will leak that they've agreed to sell Cech. Anzi Makhalachkadaka Street will line up behind Monaco and Zenit to give us big bags of cash. You will cry. A lot. But it will be okay. The end.
Wild Cards: Somebody else wins the World Cup, but everything else stays the same. The end again.