clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Six players Chelsea should be targeting this summer in latest rebuild

New, comments
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Depending on your persuasion this part of the football calendar is either something you love or something you hate. The endless speculation concerning transfers, tactics and another transitional period can wear you down. For others it is a chance to indulge and embrace the future. Given the torrid season that has just passed, I do not blame anyone looking to the horizon for optimism. It has to be better than the "why did we sell De Bruyne and Lukaku" arguments?

(So for those of you who do not like the words "transfers" or "tactics" this is a friendly warning…)

Chelsea are in something of a purgatorial state when it comes to the composition of our squad: caught between the worlds of possession and power. We are neither good enough to play a Guardiola-esque possession oriented style nor robust enough for a Mourinho/Simeone/Conte system. Our failings have often been masked by individual brilliance (hello, Eden). It is only when the performances of Costa and Hazard dropped to such a mediocre level, that the rest of the system is exposed.

With the arrival of Antonio Conte it would suggest that the club have made their minds up: the tippy-tappification of Chelsea is over. That famous vision of seeing "Barcelona in blue" (I am unsure if this exact phrase was ever uttered, but it is unarguable that this was enacted post-2010) looks to be on the backburner. It might be the most sensible thing that the club have done in recent years. Chelsea have become great at keeping the ball, but doing very little with it – the gap between the ability of players required to make it work and this Chelsea squad is too great.

Sadly the way I feel about a lot of the current team involves a giant bin and a shipping container labelled "CHINA". I personally see this is as a two-year rebuild – we add core pieces in year one and in year two continue to replenish the overall quality of the squad. Conte has reportedly asked for five new players; we have seen that this has recently been funded by player sales. However, given the sentiment on our "Keep, Sell or Loan" series it seems like fans want everyone to stay. That is just unfeasible and will only further push us towards sustained mediocrity.

I would take reasonable offers on the following first team players while looking to move a sizeable chunk of the loan army on: Thibaut Courtois; Gary Cahill, Baba Rahman, Branislav Ivanović; Cesc Fàbregas, Nemanja Matić, John Obi Mikel; Willian, Oscar, Pedro and Rémy. All are saleable and replaceable.

Chelsea FC v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

I would imagine that most people are familiar with the players we are being linked to. In the event we sign someone I will endeavour to write something about them and their potential fit at the club. Clearly at this point there is no indication as to what shape Conte is likely to play, but a general overview of their qualities would be useful. With that in mind the below are a few alternative players I think would hugely benefit the squad.

They all fit the following criteria: (i) young; (ii) high potential; (iii) athletic; (iv) buyable and (v) not extortionately priced

(Edit: to clarify, as a comment suggested, the below are under-the-radar players to supplement more experienced and established signings. I am not stating we should play a team of 20-year olds in lieu of pursuing someone of Bonucci's or Koulibaly's ability. I see the below as complementary pieces of a wider rebuild - so Nainggolan and Bazoer would make sense; not Bazoer instead of Nainggolan. Hopefully that's a little clearer!)

Centre Back

JONATHAN TAH (Bayer Leverkusen // 20) – maybe the archetypal long-term partner for Kurt Zouma. Standing at 6’3½" the German centre half looks built for Premier League football. Powerful and quick, he brings a calmness and comfort in possession that Kurt currently lacks. A back three that featured Zouma, Christensen and Tah has exceptional pace, enough technique to use the ball properly and a lot of physicality.

He is perhaps a new breed of centre half – as capable of dictating play with the ball at his feet as he is at defending. Interestingly enough there is a lot of maturity to his game that really defies his age. From a positioning standpoint he is already very good. He plays in an intense pressing system on a weekly basis with chasms of space behind him in a super high line. Yet rarely is there a mistake or misstep, rarely is he frantically chasing back and rarely would you consider him to be just twenty years of age.

SAMUEL UMTITI (Olympique Lyonnais // 22) – the only knock on Umtiti is his size – he’s 5’11", but factoring in his style this really should not be cause for concern. Umtiti is a great reader of the game, athletic and most importantly he’s fantastic on the ball. If France were not blessed with an abundance of top quality centre backs he might be a bit more prominent than what he is.

Umtiti has wonderful upper body strength and often dominates physical encounters. His strength belies his size and would allow Kurt Zouma to be an aggressor, with him sweeping behind. There are the seemingly standard issues that come along with being a ball playing centre back. He is somewhat rash in the tackle and there are a few questions about his football IQ. Though these are areas you would anticipate Antonio Conte could improve.

Central Midfield

NABY KEÏTA (Red Bull Salzburg // 21) – if N’Golo Kanté is going to be one of Europe’s most sought after commodities post-Euros, then Naby Keïta may be the next in line to the unheralded throne. Keïta is an incredible prospect, perhaps even more so than Kanté. Similar accusations originally thrown at the Frenchman (quality of the league, size etc.) are thrown in the direction of Keïta. Yet, the numbers do not lie. He is perhaps the most well-rounded player in Europe at the moment and despite the league he plays in this should translate to Chelsea.

In 2014/15 Keïta played exclusively as a holding player: by any defensive metric you can think of his performance level was astronomical. In 2015/16 he was moved forward to operate as more of a number 8/10 and he was utterly exceptional again. 12 goals and 8 assists in 2,179 minutes put him at a scoring contribution of 0.83 (a number at or above traditional top quality playmakers). Eden Hazard in his Player of the Year season had an output of 0.65 for comparison and Mesut Özil was at 0.64 last season.

Ted Knutson had this to say on him: "If I am buying one central midfielder in Europe right now, it’s Naby Keita. Need a DM? Naby Keita. Need an 8? Naby Keita. A 10 that scores, creates, and destroys? At just 21 years old, he played as an elite defensive midfielder in a pressing system last season. This season he moved forward into an 8/10 role and has put up outrageous scoring stats while losing very little defensive output. No one does that. Only 1.72m tall, Naby is both fast and strong and has excellent balance. He’s an outstanding dribbler. He’s honestly one of the most athletic young central midfielders I have ever scouted."

Sign me up.

RIECHEDLY BAZOER (Ajax // 19) – Renato Sanches took all the headlines with his seismic move to Bayern Munich. An eye watering potential fee of around £61m will seem like peanuts if he realises his immense potential. Bazoer, though, is an equally talented prospect. Shades of David Alaba, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Vieira can all be seen in his game. A pit bull who has the potential to be the midfield reference point Chelsea so desperately need: Bazoer is a technical tank.

Like Sanches there is a rawness in his game, but who better to sculpt him than Antonio Conte? He combines the same street footballing mentality that made Edgar Davids so great (and spiky) with the type of footballing brain you would associate with a Jong Ajax product. Technical, physical and aggressive, he is built for Premier League football. His ability to break from deep and carry the ball through midfield is something that separates him from other young number sixes.

Forwards

VINCENT JANSSEN (AZ Alkmaar // 22) – any striker who is worth almost a goal every 90 minutes he plays is definitely worth a look (0.94 goals and assists per 90 minutes played). With reported interest from Tottenham and Wolfsburg, it might be too late for Chelsea to join the hunt for Janssen. A player who not only has the numbers but the physicality to suggest he is worth a chance at a higher level than the Eredivisie. Is he an Arjen Robben or a Mateja Kezman?

Janssen is a really composed finisher and the similarities with Hernan Crespo are noticeable. Like the Argentinean, Janssen has the capability of scoring any type of goal. Right foot, left foot or in the air – it does not matter. When the alternatives seem to be floating around the £60m bracket, would it not be sensible to look at someone who potentially both complements Diego Costa and even could replace him as a lone striker?

Technically Janssen has a great touch, he is strong with his back to goal, links play and really has great movement. He is physically similar to Radamel Falcao (same height if a little stockier), and given his athleticism I feel he can handle the physicality of the Premier League. My only concerns mirror those of any product coming from Holland – can they make the step up?

IÑAKI WILLIAMS (Athletic Bilbao // 22) – maybe my favourite young forward in Europe and despite a €50m release clause, I think he is worth every penny of that. Playing from mostly out wide his scoring contribution of 0.71 is very good. However, his future has to be playing a central role where his exceptional pace and dribbling should cause havoc for anyone trying to mark him. His end product for a traditional winger (crossing, creating) is not a strength, but given he is playing out of position this is not a significant negative.

Williams’ combination of pace, technique and awareness makes him out to be a fearful prospect who is only going to improve. Crucially it is his ability on the ball that would make him a seriously intelligent acquisition. Blessed with sublime control, skill and balance, he is the perfect complement to Diego Costa. Where Costa is bullish and physical, Williams has the subtlety and close control. Would I have him ahead of Romelu Lukaku? Absolutely.