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Conventional, Homegrown, or Unusual: Three options for defensive reinforcements at Chelsea this January

Defensive targets Chelsea should look to acquire in the forthcoming January Transfer Window

Chelsea v Hull City - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Mid-November. Typically emotive, tear-jerking adverts look to play on our subconscious as multi-national corporations seek to maximize profits. Buy this, buy that. And buy the other. Foxes on trampolines. Dogs on trampolines. Sing me a song, you late night TV host. Death to carrots and common sense and your non-commercial soul. Everybody on trampolines!

Meanwhile, almost as mind-numbingly, speculation begins in earnest about potential transfer targets for the forthcoming transfer window. That said, since Chelsea will most certainly be looking to reinforce the squad, let’s take a look at three different options available to the Blues.

It may not be apparent by looking at the current squad, but throughout the previous two seasons, defensive targets have been a priority.

Two summers ago, Chelsea’s frustratingly relentless pursuit of John Stones led to a last-minute rejected £40 million pound bid for Marquinhos, which led to alternatives called Michael Hector and Papy Djilobodji. Matt Miazga joined in January. The three of them amassed a staggering total of three appearances for the Blues.

Things having gone so well, Chelsea set about mirroring last summer’s activities this summer as well. The Pensioners’ unrelenting pursuit of Kalidou Kouilably — a transfer saga indistinguishable from the John Stones one — resulted in nothing, and left almost no time to pivot to other targets. Many bids were turned down, most notably for Alessio Romagnoli, before Chelsea managed to secure the signings of Marcos Alonso and David Luiz at the last minute. Despite the initial scepticism and stink of panic buying, the pair have proven excellent acquisitions.

Against all odds, Chelsea successfully addressed the immediate demand for defensive reinforcements. Yet, there is still need to address the long-term requirements. Chelsea’s defence — much like Europe’s population — is aging, which doesn’t provide a practical or sustainable foundation for the future. John Terry and Branislav Ivanović’s contracts will expire at the end of the season; it wouldn’t be entirely implausible to anticipate Winter signings.

ALESSIO ROMAGNOLI — The Conventional Option

Italy v Germany - International Friendly Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Having failed to acquire his services over the summer, there is no harm in testing the extent of Milan’s resolve with a fresh approach in January. The 21-year-old is endowed with considerable potential and possesses quality in abundance already. The level of maturity and discipline he exhibits is utterly remarkable for a player of his age — the Italian has only received a single yellow card in 11 league appearances this season. Having secured his status as Milan’s starting centre-back, he’s provided their defensive unit with a solidity that they so desperately craved.

More importantly, Romagnoli’s style of play is tailored to the requirements of a modern centre back. As David Luiz has demonstrated, Conte’s 3-4-3 system allows technically proficient defenders to thrive. Similarly to Luiz, Romagnoli is renowned for his ball-playing ability and aerial prowess. At the age of 21, there is substantial time for further development and presumably Antonio Conte could help this along just as he did for Bonucci, Barzagli, and Chiellini.

Indeed, the prospect of Romagnoli in Conte’s back-three is an enticing prospect. He is widely perceived as one of Italy’s most prominent prospects; the only hindrance could be the price — Chelsea’s £35 million bid was rejected during the summer and any price now would have to account for the January Window’s notoriously inflated prices.

MICHAEL KEANE — The Homegrown Option

England Training Session Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The Michael Keane rumours have been increasing rapidly over the past few weeks. The 23-year-old’s opportunities at Manchester United were limited — a familiar story for any fan of the Chelsea Academy — and Keane consequently relocated to Burnley. Since his permanent transfer and thanks to consistent opportunities, Keane has been a revelation. He was an instrumental figure in Burnley’s promotion to the Premier League las season.

The United graduate is renowned for his concentration; he is a player who does the simple things right, the paradigm of the traditional English centre-half. Like Romagnoli, he is incredibly disciplined, having received only a single yellow card in 10 premier league appearances. He also poses a goal threat, of which there is great tradition in the Chelsea defensive ranks.

While Keane is clearly a cheaper (reported fee of £25 million) and arguably a more viable option, he would still prove to be a shrewd signing — not in the least bit because he would count as a homegrown player. Chelsea do currently have space open for one additional homegrown player.

BEN DAVIES — The Unusual Option

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur - EFL Cup Fourth Round Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

This last option is likely to raise a few eyebrows. How could Tottenham’s back-up full-back be of benefit to Chelsea? First, there is a misconception to address. Many recognise Davies as a full-back and rightly so, considering this is the position he occupied at his boyhood club Swansea City and currently with Tottenham Hotspur as well. But Chris Coleman opted to nurture his talents as a centre-back for Wales, a position in which he has excelled despite being under six feet tall.

I’ve had the privilege of watching Ben Davies play on countless occasions for Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium, and the fact that he is deployed as a full-back at Spurs is a chronic waste of resources and a prime example of mismanagement. At centre back, he is arguably the Dragons’ greatest defender. Ben Davies is the epitome of the modern-day centre-half, he is quick, technically gifted and vigorous. His last-ditch clearance against Slovakia in the Euros is a prime example of the actions and attitude one could expect from Ben Davies.

In many ways, Davies’ style of play resembles that of David Luiz. Davies’ passing range is particularly impressive, and he isn’t afraid of embarking upon advancing runs from deep positions. These characteristics are entwined with incredible vision, anticipation, and positioning. Having secured 28 international caps, the the 23-year-old is already well versed in operating in a back-three but has amassed plenty of experience in other systems as well.

Considering that Davies is currently behind Danny Rose in Tottenham’s pecking order; it is likely that would be the cheapest option out of the three, though that isn’t necessarily reflective of his abilities. He’s homegrown as well and could provide Chelsea with the opportunity to get one up on Tottenham. And that’s never not pleasing.

Honourable Mentions (These should be taken with a pinch of salt)

  • Antonio Rudiger
  • Jonathan Tah
  • Stefan De Vrij
  • Ben Gibson
  • Sead Kolasinac

Alternative Options

  • Wait for Andreas Christensen to return
  • Promote Jake Clarke-Salter and Fikayo Tomori
  • Wait to see if Matt Miazga and Michael Hector are any good (ed. note: they’re not)

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