In the grand tradition of the past decade or so (2010, 2015, 2017 especially), Chelsea have embarked on a summer of non-activity (at least thus far) following a major trophy win. Unlike in the miraculous summer of 2012, we haven’t used our clout as Champions of Europe to get players to arrive in droves.
Though our need to reinforce and rebuild in 2021 is far, far less than it was in 2012, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that we finished fourth in the league, and just barely, which doesn’t exactly scream “title challenge” even if our record was better under Tuchel than Lampard.
The rumor mill has worked hard to sell us on a few pipe-dreams, Erling Haaland first and foremost, but what if we end up making zero major signings this summer? Will it be a mistake just as with Ancelotti, Mourinho, and Conte — none of whom would last more than 12 months after? Or are we actually already in a good position and we should continue not panicking? (Spend money only on the best of the best, as we’ve been preaching for a long time, and fill the rest from the Academy.)
Let’s take a look.
I’d say we’re pretty well set here with Édouard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga, who’s certainly a fine enough (if grossly overpaid) backup. A veteran third-choice wouldn’t go amiss, but I’m equally fine giving that job to a youngster and looking for mid-season help should long-term injury strike down either of the first two.
We still have a surplus of left backs and Ben Chilwell is already an excellent first-choice. On the right, the situation is a bit more complicated, but only because Reece James is also an excellent center back and defensive midfielder. César Azpilicueta is fine as a backup (but nothing more at this point), while we have highly promising talent ready at the top of the pipeline in Tino Livramento.
Chelsea were set to address this position this summer, but our stopgap solution has proven to be a bit more longer-lasting than expected and the rest of the defenders, especially Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen have all done really well under Tuchel. That said, some concern remains due to everyone’s contract expiring next summer (except Kurt Zouma’s) and it’s debatable whether this group can handle a potential shift away from a three-man setup (to help increase our attacking potency).
Given the uncertainties, the departures of Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi have certainly not sat too well, though we do have other potentially useful options in Malang Sarr, Ethan Ampadu, and Trevoh Chalobah (the latter two can also fill in at defensive midfield). It still feels like we’re going to see massive personnel changes at this position soon — and acquiring a top, top young center back from somewhere would be a solid move.
If Kanté can stay healthy and Jorginho can keep the last six months going, we’re probably okay for now. But fairly soon, both of those guys will need to be replaced, internally (Gallagher? Gilmour? Etc?) or externally. Mateo Kovačić was Chelsea’s player of the season a couple seasons ago, and he just recently turned 27. He’s good to go for a while yet.
It’s tough to define positions clearly in attack thanks to everyone’s versatility these days, but the squad is stuffed full of promising young talent already. Mason Mount (22), Kai Havertz (22), Christian Pulisic (22), and Callum Hudson-Odoi (20) can be as good as anyone in world football. Hakim Ziyech may be older, but we haven’t see his best yet in a Chelsea shirt. Returning loanees like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley are perfectly adequate as peripheral options if needed, not to mention any Academy talents, such as Tino Anjorin.
Commensurate with the state of the rumor mill, this is the position that’s perhaps the most in need of immediate attention, especially as we continue to persist in getting rid of Tammy Abraham. Havertz can certainly do a fine job here — and perhaps this is his true calling — but we’d be a lot more comfortable if we knew whether Timo Werner’s first season was just a blip or the new normal for him. With Olivier Giroud already gone and Tammy set to follow, we’d also be without an obvious “big man” to lead the line, which can be helpful at times.
That said, with none of Erling Haaland, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, or Robert Lewandowski looking likely to move, we might have to bide our time. Part of the reason the squad has gotten so bloated is Chelsea spending unwisely on good, but not great talent. That’s the one mistake that should be avoided above all cost — even at the risk of relying on incremental improvement from the current squad.