Losing both Nemanja Matić and Nathaniel Chalobah was not part of the master plan this summer for Chelsea. Either one or the other, with the ideal scenario being to keep Matić, acquire an understudy for him given his age and contractual situation, and loan out Chalobah for increased minutes. But as it often happens with best laid plans, not all pieces fell into place. Matić and Chalobah both wanted out and Bakayoko arrived injured, which left Chelsea severaly short-handed for the opening weeks of the new season.
Now, the deadline day acquisition of Danny Drinkwater, and the return to fitness of Bakayoko has more or less “fixed” the midfield situation, though with two new pieces needing to be integrated rather than just the one. Fortunately, it looks like Bakayoko’s settling in nicely, following the 90 minutes he gutted out against Spurs on one leg with a much more effective and impressive 90 minutes on two legs against Leicester on Saturday.
Antonio Conte was duly impressed as well, but of course he quickly reminded of the constant and specific need to improve as he’s wont to do, likening the evolutionary path that Bakayoko needs to follow to that of N’Golo Kanté, who’s been steadily improving his on-the-ball skills in addition to his already plentiful abilities out of possession.
“[Kanté] is always improving. Now he's very good also with the ball.
“Before, a lot of people told me: 'Yes, without the ball he has great stamina, he is a great worker.' But now with the ball he is improving a lot. To be the best player in the Premier League last season was a great thing, and I think this season is confirming this.
"Don't forget, Baka is 23 years old. He's younger than N'Golo. Last season he played in France and now he's adapting himself to this type of football. I think he has great quality and now he's very strong without the ball -- but with work he can improve with the ball in the same way as N'Golo."
-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN
Both Kanté and Bakayoko joined Chelsea (at least in part) specifically to work with Conte and evolve to become complete players under his tutelage. With Baka just 23 and Kanté not much older at 26, if we play our cards right, this partnership could anchor the Chelsea midfield for many years to come.