As the boredom of this winter break truly hits home, Chelsea retain a fleeting interest in veteran Napoli forward, Dries Mertens. A player whose contract is set to expire in the summer, Chelsea hope his experience will balance out this exceptionally young squad. But is Mertens actually well-suited to Chelsea’s system? Or is he just the result of a money saving scheme with so many positions on the agenda this summer.
Over the past six years Mertens has established himself as one of Europe’s finest goal scorers. Having made the transition to Italian football with consummate ease, the 32-year-old has hit double figures for goals and assists in each season he has played in Naples. This achievement is all the more impressive considering the misfortune of summer-signing Hirving Lozano, who himself made the move to the San Paolo stadium from Merten’s former club PSV Eindhoven. The Mexican winger thrived in Holland but has since managed only three goals in limited minutes this season.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have been crying out for attacking reinforcements with Tammy Abraham succumbing to the strains of a hectic winter period and picking up two innocuous injuries. Michy Batshuayi’s series of lethargic performances has proven his inadequacy within Chelsea’s high-pressing system, and with Olivier Giroud seemingly out of favour, the addition of short-term cover could help the Blues in their pursuit of honors in the coming years. Mertens, however, doesn’t present himself as the answer to the said question.
Despite all the plaudits he has received for his ability to burst in behind and finish, Chelsea should be in the market for a forward who profiles more similarly to Abraham; in other words, someone physically dominant and more akin to holding up the ball, while simultaneously utilizing his teammates’ supporting runs (rather than latching onto balls from deep). Mertens is a slight and agile winger whose transition to the head of the attacking trio was more a result of circumstance. Napoli’s attacking set-up relies on the homogenous interchanging of three players who operate comfortably as both inside forwards and false nines.
There is the argument that tactical flexibility is an important part of any successful team, and that is a reasonable assertion. But not one that should be considered midway through a long term project and vision (Chelsea have suffered a series of disappointing results in search of a tactical identity.) With the Blues arguably still in the midst of forging any semblance of consistency, there is little doubting that familiarity should be prioritised.
With reports emerging of Chelsea’s interest in Mertens once again, it’s evident he could well become the short term option to Chelsea’s striking issues for the next couple of seasons. A player that splits opinion but will on a free, would represent a very low risk transfer deal this summer.