With Chelsea increasingly confident of having their transfer ban lifted in time for the January window, the rumour mill has started up again at Stamford Bridge. It’s been a quiet summer for transfer talk but we’re now seeing more names linked with a move to the club, and one in particular is a name that cropped up before the ban was confirmed, Youcef Atal.
Currently playing in Ligue 1 for Nice, Yousef Atal is an extremely versatile player, featuring at RB, RW and LW over the course of last season, even grabbing a hat trick against Guingamp while playing on the left. Chelsea were first linked with him in April, before the trail went cold due to the ban, but it seems as though that interest has been retained, with the club set to target Atal in January if their ban is lifted. Failing that, he could be a priority signing for next summer.
Atal is a much more attacking player than he is defensive, a more modern day full back. Last season he made 1.9 interceptions and 2.3 tackles per game which is pretty good considering how much he likes to attack. He’s a capable defender but isn’t outstanding, certainly not as good as our other options in that regard. However, it’s his attacking prowess that makes him most desirable, having scored 6 goals last season, and completing an average of 3.5 dribbles a game compared to just 0.3 from Azpilicueta. That’s a significant difference that would benefit the team greatly, with Atal being in better positions to cross the ball much more regularly than the Spaniard. In terms of passing Azpilicueta is better in all areas, but that could be put down partly to how safe he is with the ball compared to the much more adventurous style of Atal.
His attributes make him a great player for numerous positions, with his pace and dribbling ability particularly effective when bursting forward from defence. His use of both feet means he’s comfortable in a lot of situations, and with decent defensive abilities, he’d be a shrewd acquisition.
Atal is also a full Algeria international, having made 13 appearances for his country since making his debut in 2017 and was a part of the squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
So where would he fit at Chelsea?
It’s no secret that Cesar Azpilicueta is on the decline, and will most likely be phased out of the starting XI and be replaced by Reece James over the course of the season. With reports of interest from Spain, Azpilicueta’s days may be numbered, at least at RB. There’s always the chance that he stays and converts to a CB, but it’s seemingly more and more likely that he’ll be out the door, if not next summer, then in 2021.
With that in mind, and the emergence of Reece James, Chelsea are looking to provide competition at RB, with Atal their preferred choice. If Azpilicueta were to leave, Chelsea would have two young full backs who could push each other for the next 5 years or so. Crucially, Youcef Atal offers something different to what we currently have in the position. Azpilicueta is very much a defensive full back, however his qualities in that area are dwindling. Reece James is a more combative and powerful defender, adept at both the offensive and defensive side of the game. Atal would provide a cutting edge in attack, offering a new and exciting option for Frank Lampard.
His ability to play as a winger, could help spell the end for Willian at Chelsea, who’s seemingly out of favour. Atal joining in January could enable Willian to go, leaving us with Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic and Pedro as natural wingers, with Mount and Atal also capable replacements.
Youcef Atal is a very versatile player, and would offer something different to this Chelsea squad, something they don’t currently have. And at a rumoured fee of £35m, he would be an affordable but very welcome addition to the squad.