When the transfer window closed on the 31st August 2016, few would have looked at Chelsea’s squad and predicted a title win. This was the first season that I truly felt finishing fourth would have been an achievement. A peculiar feeling as our benchmark has always been significantly higher than merely qualifying for the Champions League. The season was shaping up to be one of transition: Conte looking to redesign the squad both tactically and from a personnel standpoint.
What transpired over the course of the season went wildly beyond expectations. After settling into a 3-4-3 system, arguably the most decisive tactical change in Premier League history, Chelsea were a different animal. Thirteen consecutive Premier League victories put the club in the driving seat. Despite some pressure from Tottenham, Chelsea finished comfortable winners of the Premier League. In retrospect this was not a title race – it was a procession – Chelsea’s 30 wins during the course of a season a new record. It was another Chelsea side who finished with more points than Arsenal’s Invincibles draw specialists.
“This season we did something great with the players. We must be cold and analyse the situation. The most important thing is to give a correct evaluation of our season. It's very important to understand that this season for us was incredible. Every single player put so much work in. For next season we must pay great attention and understand that we have to improve the numbers and the quality in the squad”
– Antonio Conte, speaking after the FA Cup Final defeat.
It is unsurprising that Conte provided the most reasonable thoughts around Chelsea’s season and direction. His viewpoint sits comfortably between two very polarising schools of Chelsea thought (there are obviously shades of grey concerning the below and I have slightly embellished to make a point – don’t get mad):
- Chelsea are actually not that good and a lot of players who have won the League are “frauds” because some pseudointellectual point needs to be made about the volantes and trequartistas of this world.
- That because Chelsea won the Premier League, they are both excellent as a team and individually and anyone suggesting alternatives or improvements thinks they know more than Antonio Conte.
Conte’s position is a lot more rational and acknowledges the success of the current squad while explicitly stating improvements are needed. Undoubtedly our season was influenced by the fact we were playing once a week. We benefited greatly from the additional training time that a lack of European football brings. The obvious counter being that Chelsea have previously mounted a title challenge or won the title while going deep into the latter stages of the Champions League. Times do change, however, and this speaks to the “improve numbers” aspect of Conte’s assessment: we will need to rotate more and have greater depth, something we lack currently.
The reality of the Premier League today is that it is much harder to qualify for the Champions League with each passing season. When English clubs were enjoying a purple patch in Europe the concept of the big four existed. Teams could focus on doing better in the competition knowing they were more than likely going to qualify for it each season. With increased competition at the top end of the table, teams must allocate more resources to winning league games in an attempt just to qualify. When you factor in the competitiveness of the league and the lack of a winter break, it is becoming increasingly difficult for English teams to compete with their Spanish and German counterparts.
“Every game in the Premier League you have to be at 100 per cent for 90 minutes or you will lose. In Spain, you can be up at half-time against the bottom club and take your foot off the gas. You can rest players and take people off. If you try for 45 minutes you won’t win a match in the Premier League. Obviously the winter break is massive. In England you’ll play four or five games and we don’t play any. You don’t get many rest days and it really does burn you out for a long time after that. It’s nice to really get away from it, mentally as well as physically. Spanish teams definitely know they have this edge over the English. Every country does: Spain, Italy, Germany, they all have the winter break”
– Gareth Bale
We cannot look to the Premier League as a barometer of the quality required to move back to Europe’s top table. Between 2005-11 the Premier League was a dominant presence in European football. In 2007 and 2009 the Premier League had three of the four semi-finalists in the Champions League. Ironically, it was probably our weakest squad “on paper” that went on to claim the trophy in Munich. However, that win has obfuscated a true decline in the performance of the League in general. Since 2012 the Premier League has provided only 5 quarter-finalists, while Spain has provided 17 and Germany 10 (even France has provided more than the Premier League).
Perhaps the most important point Conte makes is that Chelsea must improve the quality within the squad. Conte states that “we must be cold” when analysing the situation. John Terry’s own words suggested Chelsea needed to sign “five or six big players” in the summer to, assumedly, get back in the conversation as a top European club. This definitely stands up to any level of scrutiny. In our most recent Champions League campaigns we have looked levels below Atlético Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain: both individually and collectively, we were overpowered and outplayed. This has occasionally been the case this season – there is little point pretending otherwise.
What cannot happen is the “typical Chelsea” approach to a title winning season. I have often felt that the club blindly believe the narrative that follows winning a title. Alex McGovern’s tweet summed up the approach concisely – we need to attack the market and not sit passively. Constant improvement is the name of the game:
Hopefully board have learnt their lessons, gut feeling is they have. A look at our transfers after last 2 titles https://t.co/TF1ZZ0c9N3— Alex McGovern (@amcgovern25) May 29, 2017
So the following are players Chelsea have either been linked to or I would like to pursue. They are meant to be bite size chunks, so feel free to skip between players. I tend to have watched at least 5 full 90 minutes involving the players below (bar the goalkeepers) as well as highlights. Trying to condense that into a paragraph is a bit difficult, so I will probably provide some detailed reports on actual signings. Generally trying to focus on the positives of the players.
I will likely share my ideal window with the London is Blue crew on their podcast.
Fortunately, Chelsea are in a position where Thibaut Courtois is one of the best goalkeeper’s in the world. With Asmir Begović leaving the club this summer, Chelsea will need to find a new number 2. With Eduardo signing a new contract to remain as Chelsea’s third choice, the hunt for a new deputy is on. It does always seem quite odd that finding a good backup goalkeeper is one of the trickiest signings to make.
I always feel like using a goalkeeper slot to fill a home-grown slot makes a lot of sense. The candidates from January were Craig Gordon, Diego López or Fernando Muslera. Recent links see us apparently considering the signing of French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola – his name alone will certainly go down well with the UK media. I would opt to look at someone like John Ruddy – recently released by Norwich. Although I am definitely not the best evaluators of goalkeepers, he should be an able deputy to Courtois. Perhaps a slightly harsh assessment, but I never quite felt Begović lived up to his billing as a very good Premier League goalkeeper when he arrived.
Depending on your outlook this is either a strength or weakness. Gary Cahill is a stalwart and someone who gives everything whenever he puts on the shirt. However, he was highlighted by both Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher as an area of improvement that the club should make. David Luiz started strong as the central back in Conte’s 3-4-3, but post-Agüero assault he looked unsure at times. César Azpilicueta was largely excellent after being converted into a right centre back, but he was targeted by better teams in the air and this tactic did prove fruitful.
John Terry will be moving on in the summer and there is a lot of noise surrounding a prospective Kurt Zouma loan. I am a huge admirer of Nathan Aké as the left-sided centre back, but my feeling is that the club do not rate him as highly as many fans do. Aké possesses an incredibly high ceiling and gives you positional flexibility as a left-back, left wingback and as a central midfielder. His comfort on the ball and ability to defend across the entire left defensive channel should mean he gets a proper look during pre-season (but this is Chelsea…).
ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN (21, Chelsea, 6’2”)
The “If He Doesn’t Get a Chance, What’s The Point?” Option
Allow me to think outside the box for one second by suggesting a Chelsea Academy graduate. Christensen will be the litmus test for Chelsea’s current methodology of developing players. A modern centre half who is excellent in possession and more importantly excellent under pressure (91% pass completion this season). He has experience of playing in a back three and back four. What separates him from other players his age is his anticipation – he averages between 2 and 3 interceptions a game. The usual riposte of “but can he handle the Premier League?” will no doubt be thrown at him. Given his best performances were usually against the better sides he faced (Bayern, Juventus and Dortmund were sensational games from him), I have confidence that he should come back and start. If we spent £35m-£45m on him this summer it would not be out of place. So why not be smart for once and let Christensen come in as an equal without having to run the usual Academy gauntlet?
“I’ve always told Andreas that he should chase me and knock me off the team. He should be hungry to take my place. Believe me; I am sure that he will be a top footballer and one of the future men for Chelsea”
– John Terry speaking about Andreas Christensen
VIRGIL VAN DIJK (25, Southampton, 6’4”)
The big money buy
Before his injury there was an argument to make that van Dijk was the best centre back in the Premier League. Utterly dominant in the air and just as good with the ball at his feet. A centre back with all the physical attributes you could hope for, van Dijk is a colossus. He has improved immeasurably since his move from Celtic and has continued to improve with each passing game. What I like most about van Dijk is his ability to deal with every type of centre forward. Robust, commanding and poised, he is capable of starting for a top club in England and I would be surprised if he does not move this summer. Is he worth the money being quoted? In this market, it feels like £50m is the new £25m and I would pay that for VvD. He would be excellent as a right centre back.
JAKE CLARKE-SALTER (19, Chelsea since 2006, 6’2”)
The academy product
There was talk around January that Chelsea considered Clarke-Salter to be a future first team player. An injury cut his time short at Bristol Rovers, but speaking with Will Dubey (Player Recruitment Analyst for Bristol Rovers) he conveys the image of a bright future for Jake.
“He definitely has everything to make it at as a defender at the highest level. His attitude is fantastic, he has a winning mentality and he was very confident in our training environment. All our coaches were impressed with his mentality, and goes without saying, his ability as well. Jake definitely suits that left centre back role as it gives him the chance to step out with the ball, something he is very good at. Technically he is incredibly comfortable and he can pick a pass. Also, he’s an aggressive defender and comfortable defending in big spaces higher up the pitch. If Jake had not been injured, he would probably have played in a 3 for us quite a lot, which makes that injury he picked up even more of a shame”.
The general consensus is that he definitely has the ability, he now just needs to add some bulk to his 6’2” frame. Crucially Clarke-Salter is a left sided centre back and could work as a backup to whoever starts there. Conventional wisdom may suggest another loan is required, perhaps Championship or even Bundesliga, but I think Clarke-Salter has a lot of what is required to be a centre half in this three man system.
If you would have told me that Victor Moses would become a crucial part of Chelsea’s resurgence as a wing back I would have laughed. The Nigerian international became an intrinsic part of Chelsea’s success and he should be kept around as a solid squad option. Marcos Alonso seemingly split opinion between fans on a regular basis. A solid player who came up with some big moments, many felt that he underperformed and was defensively suspect, while others saw him as a very good signing. Beyond the two starters Ola Aina barely saw the pitch and Pedro proved why he should not play there regularly. César Azpilicueta may need to adapt to playing as a right wing back full-time if Chelsea invest heavily in a centre back.
The wing back is arguably the most important role within the side and as such it makes sense to look at the quality of those starting. It is not merely about being defensively solid. The wing back has to be an excellent footballer, capable of contributing in both the middle and final thirds. I often see the skill set to be similar to a very mobile central midfielder – someone like David Alaba can step into central midfield and be fantastic, but on the left side he’s truly elite. Oftentimes they need to provide width, overlap, underlap and be technical enough to keep the ball circulating.
ANDREA CONTI (23, Atalanta, 6’½”)
The Conti identity
There have been a lot of reports linking Chelsea with Italian right back Andrea Conti. Conte, Kanté, Conti… it is going to get confusing. This might be the most obvious move to make as Conti has been playing as a right wing back in a 3-4-3 for Atalanta this season. Conti is an extremely aggressive player, both in terms of the number of tackles and interceptions he makes during a game. His acceleration and ability to hit top gear make him a really potent threat during counters and when providing width. In Serie A he scored 8 goals this season with 5 assists. Defensively I have some reservations about him – his positioning can be a bit erratic. Although you would imagine this is something that Conte could correct, given his ability to coach the requirements of each position within his system. If paired with a powerful right centre back (VvD?), this might be less of an issue. A very direct player, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the defensive blocks teams often use against Chelsea.
JEREMY TOLJAN (22, Hoffenheim, 6’0”)
The under the radar raider
Toljan strikes me as a player who might need a move to someone like Napoli before he becomes a significant target for someone big. Athletically, he is incredibly gifted with the positional flexibility to operate both as a conventional full-back (left and right), wing back or anywhere in midfield. A product of the talented Julian Nagelsmann’s coaching; Toljan has a great foundation upon which to build. I would see him as a right wing back at Chelsea, but there are improvements that need to be made. He is the type of player Bayern Munich buys to develop. With his contract running out next year and an acknowledgement he is unlikely to sign another deal, he could be a steal in the summer if developed correctly.
ALEX SANDRO (26, Juventus, 5’11½”)
The probably won’t get him, but what a player
General rule of thumb is that most players who play for Juventus are pretty good. Alex Sandro is pretty good and then some. Sandro may well be the most complete wing back in world football at the moment. If you looked purely at his strong tackling and awareness, you would suggest he is a fantastic defender. However, it is his exceptional ability going forward that rounds him out as a superstar. Given he has just signed a new contract; I doubt he is available, but Sandro is precisely the level of player Chelsea should be targeting this summer.
SERGE AURIER (24, Paris Saint-Germain, 5’9”)
The bit unsavoury but hopefully that’s behind him option
If we ignore some of the stuff he has done and said, Aurier is an exceptional player. He looks certain to leave Paris this summer, eyeing a fresh start, with Manchester United apparently waiting in the wings. Aurier is an explosive player, capable of marauding up and down the right hand side as a traditional right back or wing back. From a footballing standpoint he is a £30m+ player – but he has become a headache in Paris and as such could be available for significantly less. Reports that he has rejected a contract extension presumably signal the fact PSG will be looking to move on from him this summer.
DJIBRIL SIDIBÉ (24, Monaco, 6’0”)
The let’s raid Monaco option
Sidibé stood out as a top class operator for Monaco’s swashbuckling French champions this season. Capable of playing as an electric option from the left or right, this versatility alone has turned the heads of people in Europe. At Chelsea he would be a starting wing back, incredibly comfortable in possession and having the athletic traits you would desire to push up and down all game. He is almost the personification of Monaco – extremely capable going forward, but with reservations about his defensive capability. I felt he looked a little bit out of his depth at times against City, but that could be an experience thing.
NÉLSON SEMEDO (23, Benfica, 5’9½”)
The potential superstar
There are three facets to Nélson Semedo’s game that make him a potential superstar – (1) his engine is absolutely astonishing – you would love to see him versus Kanté running shuttles; (2) his 1-on-1 defending is excellent and the ferocity and pride with which he defends sets him apart from a lot of full-backs who are merely converted wingers and (3) his passing and link-up play from the right back position is incredibly progressive and forward-thinking. The comparison I often see made is with Dani Alves. He is the most comfortable player on this shortlist in the final third, both technically and in terms of intelligence. Semedo has the awareness of a winger and the passing of a number 10 – importantly he is used to breaking down compact teams. He is a decent crosser, but he often opts for cutbacks or passes into the box. I like his ability and confidence to play line breaking passes, something Conte would find very useful when avoiding the pressing tactics of Klopp and Pochettino. The only knock is a positional one – where he probably backs his pace so much so that he can distort the defensive shape of Benfica by pressing the ball or following a player 10-15 metres away from where he should be stationed.
N’Golo Kanté remains one of steals of last summer and has settled into life at Chelsea particularly well. However, Conte spoke about Kanté’s distribution in an attacking sense as somewhere he “think[s] N’Golo has to improve”. This segues nicely into the role of Cesc Fàbregas. The Spaniard remains the best passer of a football in the Premier League and has been increasingly decisive for Chelsea towards the end of the season. However, the midfielder is clearly not trusted to start in “big games” as he is often relegated to the substitute’s bench in lieu of the more physical Nemanja Matić. While defensively the Spaniard is poor, I no longer see what Matić brings to the table ahead of Fàbregas. Has there ever been a more passive footballer for someone with his build? For Chelsea to progress it is no longer good enough for a player to simply occupy defensive space well. It has also been a shame that Nathaniel Chalobah could not get game time despite the three mainstays all having patches of below ordinary form.
MARCO VERRATTI (24, Paris Saint-Germain, 5’5”)
It’s nice to dream, but are we that ambitious?
I will be honest, this will amaze me if it happens. It feels like Verratti has designs on moving somewhere like Barcelona if he leaves Paris Saint-Germain. He has also reiterated that he is likely to remain in Paris this coming season. There is obviously the Conte factor and the pull of the Premier League, but maybe Verratti is in that tier of players Chelsea are uncomfortable pursuing. Unquestionably he is an excellent talent. Those who rarely watch him will point to the capitulation of PSG against Barcelona and suggest that is his level. This ignores the reality that Verratti invariably plays exceptionally well in big matches. In a 3-5-2 system he would sit comfortably in front of the back three and dictate the tempo of a match against any opponent. Obviously he would cost a small fortune, but as a statement signing of real intent and quality he certainly fits the bill.
TIEMOUÉ BAKAYOKO (22, Monaco, 6’ ½”)
This looks obvious…
Bakayoko suffered from what I am dubbing Karel Poborský Syndrome®: defined as the gross overrating or underrating of a player due to one performance or moment. People looked at the performance against Juventus in the Champions League and determined that he was garbage. This is patently untrue. He would, in my eyes, be 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.
CORENTIN TOLISSO (22, Olympique Lyonnais, 5’11”)
The ideal signing, but Juventus are gonna Juventus
Possibly my favourite central midfielder in Europe at the moment. What Chelsea lack (and I am assuming this is why Juventus are so keen to sign him) is a complete midfielder. Tolisso has both that edge and class that comes with being a complete two-way force. 14 goals, 7 assists and nearly 2 key passes a game highlights his burgeoning quality in the final third. He has played at the base of a midfield diamond, in a pivot, as a full-back, the right of a midfield diamond and his versatility is impressive. What I really like about him is that he is a complete footballer. My current gripe with the Kanté, Matić and Fàbregas triumvirate is that we do not have a combination capable of playing against any style of opponent. Tolisso gives you a well-rounded and far more complete midfielder than anyone currently in the squad. He brings goals and a decent shot, he can create in the final third and all the while giving you the athleticism and defensive stability you would need. Under Conte you are getting a dynamic box-to-box midfielder. Perfect in the 3-4-3 or probably even better in a 3-5-2.
AMADOU DIAWARA (19, Napoli, 6’½”)
The get him now before his price explodes
Chelsea were linked with Diawara when the Guinean midfielder was at Bologna. Since then Napoli have snapped him up and he has begun to exponentially progress under Maurizio Sarri. Anyone familiar with Serie A will know that Napoli are one of Europe’s best pure footballing sides. Diawara has benefited immensely from playing under one of Europe’s best coaches, evolving from a destructive holding midfielder into a player capable of playing box-to-box in a cultured manner. His ceiling is enormous and at 19 the potential to mould him into anything is a fascinating prospect. A player both athletically and technically gifted, he can destroy and create with equal measure. Another player I would envisage playing in either a midfield 2 or 3 and someone whose development curve suggests he is going to be a household name very soon.
LEANDRO PAREDES (22, Roma, 5’11½”)
The deep-lying playmaker
Paredes is something of an undervalued quantity at Roma. However, when they operate with a 3 at the back, the Argentine often starts in midfield. Acting as a deep-lying playmaker, Paredes is able to control the tempo of a match with his excellent range of passing and astonishing dribbling. He is great at playing one-touch and moving the ball forward positively. Does not feel pressure when on the ball and constantly repositioning himself to be available; particularly comfortable and receiving the ball in difficult situations. His ability to both see passes and make them is exceptional – particularly the choice of pass – the appropriate pace, often to the right foot and typically allows the recipient to progress with the ball quickly. Paredes has immense technique and capacity to dictate a football match. He is mobile and more defensively solid than anyone we have at present who could slot into this role. I think if he plays in a two, he can contribute more in the final third, but much of his work is as the conductor – he puts others in a position to make the final ball/assist. A great player who, if he remains at Roma, is likely to see his game time significantly increase if Radja Nainggolan follows Luciano Spalletti to Inter Milan.
NABY KEÏTA (22, Red Bull Leipzig, 5’7½”)
The Swiss-Army knife
Before Keïta moved to Leipzig from Salzburg, I was quite vocal about Chelsea trying to sign him. Despite playing in Austria at the time his qualities were clear. How many players can look excellent deployed as a distinct holding player one season and then a box-to-box/number ten hybrid the next? Keïta’s skill set means he is a true box-to-box operator. While not quite in Kanté’s ball-winning tier, he far exceeds the Frenchman with the ball at his feet. A better passer, more decisive in the final third and someone more likely to maintain the flow of the game, I think I tweeted something along the lines of “wouldn’t it be nice to get a player before he becomes a £30m+ midfielder?”; little did I know that one season on from his move to Germany, fees of £50m are being thrown around in the media. He would likely provide direct competition for Kanté and depending how well he settles, could genuinely challenge him for a starting spot. Potentially he is a 10 goal/10 assist a year central midfielder – his goals and assists total in 2016/17 matched the combined output of Matić and Kanté. It would be a step-up, but Keïta is going to be at a big club sooner rather than later.
Eden Hazard remains one of Chelsea’s best players and it is imperative that the club start to surround him with top talent. People continue to want more from the Belgian; while I agree I would like to see him score more, he is often our only outlet. Seeing teams specifically man mark him is a testament to his quality. If he plays to his capacity for an entire season, we are talking about a world class superstar. On the right hand side the resurgence of Pedro has been the most pleasing aspect of our forward play. His transition from looking like a very expensive mistake out of his depth in the Premier League to matchwinner was fantastic. Interestingly, former Player of the Year Willian actually looked far more effective coming off the bench to influence games. This is the level of substitute we should have and I actually feel he put in some excellent showings when being tasked to influence games late on.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI (23, Fiorentina, 6’0”)
The Italian Job 1.0
Bernardeschi seems to be a great potential fit in either a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. A left footed winger who primarily operates from the right-hand side, he has pace and strength as well as great technical ability. He is a wonderfully balanced player, capable of delivering quality in the final third from anywhere. I like how he can comfortably drift to the left flank and influence play both centrally and as a conventional left winger. What is noticeable is that the quality of chances that Bernardeschi creates is incredibly high. He has this wonderful knack of cutting back onto his left foot and delivering pinpoint passes/crosses into incredibly dangerous areas. Blessed with a great work rate, he is someone who feels like an Antonio Conte player.
ALEXIS SÁNCHEZ (28, Arsenal, 5’6½”)
The quite obvious, but everyone wants him
You would, wouldn’t you? Eden Hazard one side, Alexis Sánchez on the other… yes… please. Sánchez’s record is insane. From the right wing he has 46 goals and 38 assists in 118 games (0.84 G+A p90 is elite). As a forward he has 30 goals and 13 assists in just 38 games. I really, really should not need to go into detail about Sánchez and why he would make sense. He offers a goal threat in any of the positions behind the centre forward, as a centre forward or playing as a support striker. If you have the opportunity to sign someone who adds that many potential goals to your team, you take it with both hands. Whether Arsenal would sell him to Chelsea or whether Chelsea can compete with the other clubs interested in him is a completely different question though.
DOMENICO BERARDI (22, Sassuolo, 6’0”)
The Italian Job 2.0
The Italian winger has one of the best goals and assists ratios in European football – his 0.93 G+A p90 is quite simply staggering. In terms of suitability to the inside forward role, he is one of the best fits you will find in Europe. His positioning is reminiscent of a secondary striker, occupying half-spaces and likely to link well with both a wing-back and a centre forward. He was injured for large portions of this season (4 months out), which explains why he only made 25 appearances. However, his Sassuolo career has seen him score 43 goals and register 33 assists in the equivalent of 97 games (8,783 minutes). He is achieving this in a fairly mediocre side. Numbers aside, at his best Berardi is an elegant and dynamic winger. Drifting inside from the left to create and score. He appears to be on the radar of pretty much every Champions League club in England, with reports that Real Madrid are keeping tabs on him likely to increase competition.
Will Diego Costa stay or go? That is the million dollar question at Chelsea. At his best (i.e. the first half of this season) Costa is a complete menace and one of the best forwards in world football. He linked play, dragged defenders all over the place, scored, assisted and was generally dominating opponents on a weekly basis. At his worst, his touch deserts him, his ability to finish seems to evaporate and he seems more intent on getting involved in fights with opponents than winning football matches. I love Costa, but I am growing tired of his ability to get distracted from the task at hand so easily. I am unsure how you can put in one of the best solo performances I have ever seen from a Chelsea player against Manchester City to not being able to control a football in the same season. Even then, at his worst, he is nowhere near as bad as some people like to make out; but the question of consistency is valid. If he could put together an entire season, he is scoring 30 goals without breaking a sweat. There is not much to be said about Michy Batshuayi. I like him and I think there is definitely a good centre forward in there, but he needs regular football.
ROMELU LUKAKU (24, Everton, 6’3”)
The prodigal son…
You cannot argue with the Belgian’s goal scoring exploits – his record is exemplary, but is he a £70m+ centre forward? If you were crafting a Premier League striker out of granite, he would probably resemble Romelu Lukaku: the textbook definition of powerhouse. Are we looking for a technician up front, or someone to score goals and terrorise defenders? If it is the former then we probably need to look elsewhere. However, if Conte surrounds the Belgian with quality service he could thrive. I believe the “unfinished business” line often associated with Lukaku in the press. Conte can help to improve the technical aspects of Lukaku’s game, while retaining his devastating finishing ability. I was not hugely sold on this when it first came to light, but the more I think about it the more I think that Lukaku can develop even further and be Conte’s ideal centre forward. £70m though…
MAURO ICARDI (24, Inter Milan, 5’11”)
Don’t cry for me Argentina
My favourite gettable forward and it is not really close. Icardi has carried a poor Inter side for ages. 24 goals and 9 assists in 34 Serie A games is exceptional. Icardi would be the game changing centre forward that Chelsea have been after. He has the technique to link seamlessly with Eden Hazard and the individual quality to produce moments of magic out of nothing. Ultimately Icardi is a match winner blessed with world class finishing ability. His development in terms of linking play and creating has been impressive, as he was originally billed as a pure fox-in-the-box. While not having Lukaku’s raw power, he is quick and very tenacious. A beautifully balanced footballer, capable of intricate dribbling and equally adept heading the ball or using either foot, Icardi would be my first choice if I could sign someone. Everything about him in the final third screams class and you would imagine that he could become a true Chelsea great.
ANDRÉ SILVA (21, FC Porto, 6’1”)
From Porto with love
Silva may be, at least from a technical standpoint, the best footballer on this forward list. His control, his movement, his finishing (and choice of finish) are exemplary. The Porto forward might well be considered a complete modern footballer. He is incredibly well-rounded, having moved forward after growing up operating as a number 10. His link-up play, passing, control and general ability to knit the final third together is fantastic. He has a decent 0.82 G+A p90, but I would hope for a better goal return in terms of his Liga performances. The only concern with Silva is that he almost feels like he is too involved in every facet of play. Watch him through the course of a few matches and you will notice just how deep he comes. He is almost the archetypal false nine. Would that work at Chelsea where the goal scoring burden falls heavily on Diego Costa? As a player, undoubtedly, he’s a phenomenal watch – and if Chelsea were banging in goals from elsewhere, he could be the perfect fit.
ANDREA BELOTTI (23, Torino, 5’11½”)
Is he a one season wonder or the next great Italian centre forward? The difficulty in the transfer market is knowing when to move. If Belotti had produced back-to-back seasons like the one just finished, he would be entering a level of appreciation that only a few centre forwards can touch. His 28 goals and 8 assists in 38 games is a fantastic return for a forward not operating at a big Italian club. If this was his second season of producing at this level, moving for him would be a no-brainer. However, it his relative rise to prominence this season that really is the only cause for concern. Taking this season in isolation Belotti has been sensational. He scores all types of goals, is wonderful in the air, can finish with either foot and links play well.