According to the most recent reports out of France this morning, Chelsea are finally closing in on our first major summer signing, with €40m going to Monaco in exchange for 22-year-old Tiemoué Bakayoko, who played an instrumental midfield role at one of the most exciting sides seen in Europe in recent years. While Bakayoko put in the odd unimpressive performance in the Champions League as Monaco ultimately failed at the semifinal stage, throughout the rest of the season he was most impressive and seemingly well worth the massive transfer fee (which really isn’t all that massive these days).
Born in Paris to Ivorian parents, he came through the famed youth Academy at Stade Rennais before joining Monaco three seasons ago. Stuck behind the likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jeremy Toulalan, and João Moutinho for the first two (a couple untimely injuries also did not help), Bakayoko established himself as one of the first names on the team sheet this season, playing over 50 games in all competitions, getting his first French national team call-up, and making his debut in March. At one point, a certain Claude Makélélé was a positive influence in his development.
Those are the facts. Now let’s hear some opinions, starting with our very own Joe Tweeds, who included Bakayoko in his Summer Transfer Notebook.
...a straight replacement for Nemanja Matić. An incredibly powerful ball winner, athletic and a dominant presence in midfield, he has been a crucial part of Monaco’s overall system. He is not going to play passes like Cesc Fàbregas or Marco Verratti, but his distribution is often quick and incisive. Bakayoko does not dwell on the ball and is a key part of Monaco’s excellent ball circulation. In general, he’s great in tight spaces and has the ability (although I would like to see more of it) to drive forward with the ball. If he is a Matić replacement, I think we are taking a forward step.
A better, younger Matić who fits the system a bit better? That sounds pretty good, right? Playing mostly in a midfield two with the Kanté-esque Fabinho this season, Bakayoko already has experience in locking down half the pitch.
George Elek, writing for Squawka is another who’s made the Matić comparison, highlighting the increased attacking potential the younger player could provide. Matić is a player of impossibly long limbs and a loping, but otherwise not necessarily powerful stride. Bakayoko is all that, plus power.
He is an all action defensive midfielder; extremely athletic and very comfortable with the ball at his feet. His ability to cover ground quickly and effortlessly alongside his strength means that he is effective at getting the right side of an opponent before dispossessing them.
Despite this defensive prowess, it would be a mistake to see Bakayoko as merely a midfield destroyer; [while] his passing range is not expansive, [he] is adept at carrying the ball out of defence and releasing the more creative outlets.
Marginal gains, at worst perhaps, in terms of both the attacking and defensive side of things, but Bakayoko’s also six years younger and presumably still has room to improve.
Most who observe him highlight his physical strength and defensive work rate, which could bode less promisingly when faced with the massed ranks of defensive players Chelsea often encounter, but that’s why we have Cesc Fàbregas still, right? Bakayoko won’t replace both Matić and Cesc, but to expect him to do so would probably be unreasonable.
Sam Tighe, writing for Bleacher Report provides a glowing assessment of his tackling — “he doesn't do 50-50 challenges; they're always 70-30 in his favour” — while noting that even though Bakayoko isn’t going to dazzle with his passing range, his technique and feet are “far neater” than most give him credit for. A similar assessment is provided by FourFourTwo, where Michael Yokhin talks about an “imposing figure” who “reads the game well”, makes plenty of interceptions and tackles, and is instrumental in build-up thanks to his “quality” passing and dribbling.
As with most young players — Bakayoko turns 23 in mid-August, which makes him just a few months older than Nathaniel Chalobah — his consistency, decision-making, and concentration levels could use improvement. He’s also not really a goal-threat, though that’s perhaps not a huge problem with four attackers and two wing-backs playing in front of him.
There’s plenty to like here, starting with his age, his relatively reasonable price, his skills and his physicality. There’s room to improve, but that’s why we have Conte.