Chelsea’s first season under Frank Lampard (the Blues’ all-time top goalscorer and legend for both club and country) is still three months from being finished, as the current coronavirus pandemic has delayed all football competitions in Europe. Whether the season resumes or is cancelled, Lampard will have to dip into the transfer market this summer to improve his current squad. Based on his style of play at Derby, it’s clear that the formation he’s trying to implement is a 4-3-3 with two attacking full-backs.
So what should the Blues manager focus on this Summer in defence?
We’ll be analysing what Frank will need at left-back, centre-back and right-back, then whether our goalkeeper options are good enough. Statistics will also be included, where we’ll be looking at the last two seasons in their respective leagues. If that data is unavailable, I will be either comparing this season’s stats in their respective leagues with a cup competition or just looking as this seasons’ stats of their respective leagues.
FINDING A NATURAL LEFT-BACK
The most challenging part for the Blues was finding a replacement for the departed Ashley Cole in the summer of 2014: they had Felipe Luis, but went back to Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2015; they had Cezar Azpilicueta, but he’s performed better at right-back; they had Baba Rahman but he failed to impress when given the opportunity; they had Marcos Alonso, but he’s always been better at wing-back or left-midfield. Currently, Chelsea do not have a natural left-back with a similar ability to Ashley Cole. The Blues must not ignore this problem, and they must do everything in their power to find a first-team quality, attacking left-back (with good crossing abilities).
The first option is a player we’ve been linked with for over two years now is Alex Telles from FC Porto. The former Juventude Youth Academy product joined Gremio for £342k in January 2012, before joining Galatasaray for £5.5m in the summer of 2014. He spent a year on loan at Inter and later he signed for FC Porto for £5.9m (summer of 2016). The 27-year-old is quite versatile, as he can play in any position down the left flank. He’s played more than 100 games for the Primeira Liga side, and his form shows he can deliver for a big English club (in the Primeira Liga, 4 goals and 8 assists last season, 8 goals and 5 assists this season; 0.7 shots per game and 2.7 key passes last season, 1.1 shots and 2.0 key passes this season). The Brazilian is a complete full-back known for his speed and playmaking abilities. He uses his left foot to deliver crosses (per game, 10.7 crosses at a 30% accuracy last season, 8.5 crosses at a 27% accuracy this season) and he’s a quality set-piece taker. He also likes to make overlapping runs down the left-flank and has the speed to dribble past defenders or fend off markers. Despite not being a great tackler, his defensive stats are impressive for a full-back (per game, 1.8 interceptions and 1.8 clearances last season, 1.5 interceptions and 1.2 clearances this season; 4.1 total duels won last season and 4.3 this season). While his £37m release clause makes him a good candidate for the Blues, some of his stats are on the decline, which makes me wonder if Telles has already reached his prime.
The next option is Ben Chilwell from Leicester City. The Leicester City Youth Academy product joined the First Team in the summer of 2015. The 23-year-old is not as fast as some other full-backs, but he’s consistently effective in all areas of the left flank. The Englishman is known for being able to delay the counter-attacks (he forces the opposition player wide and cuts his forward passing lanes), so that the midfielders can come back to cover (in the Premier League per game, 1.1 interceptions and 3.6 clearances last season, 1.1 interceptions and 2.0 clearances this season; 7.2 total duels won last season and 5.6 this season). He also likes to go forward and send in crosses (per game, 3.5 crosses at a 17% accuracy last season, 3.7 crosses at a 19% accuracy this season), as well as take a shot on goal should the opportunity arise, but that impact hasn’t been as apparent (0 goals and 4 assists last season, 2 goals and 3 assists this season; 0.5 shots per game and 1.3 key passes last season, 0.4 shots and 1.2 key passes this season). While his current player value is at £41.4m, Leicester have set a £80-85m price tag. Since there are cheaper options with more European experience out there, it’s simply not worth spending so much on a full-back (unless you’re Manchester City).
Then there’s David Alaba from FC Bayern Munich. The former Austria Wien Youth Academy product joined FC Bayern München II on a free transfer in the summer of 2009, before joining FC Bayern München’s Main Squad a year later. He also spent six months on loan with 1899 Hoffenheim for the 2010/11 season. After his loan spell, the now 27-year-old featured in most games for the Bavarians, and can play at left-back, centre-back and central midfield. Also, since the appointment of Hansi Flick, the Austrian has been moved to centre-back to accommodate for Alphonso Davies as an auxiliary full-back. In terms of stats from last season (and not this season because the position change could affect the results): 3 goals and 3 assists in the Bundesliga, 0 goals and 2 assists in the UCL; 1.2 shots per game and 0.9 key passes in the Bundesliga, 0.6 shots and 1.0 key passes in the UCL; 3.7 crosses at a 19% accuracy in the Bundesliga, 2.4 crosses at a 17% accuracy in the UCL; 1.0 interceptions and 1.0 clearances in the Bundesliga, 2.3 interceptions and 2.7 clearances in the UCL; 3.2 total duels won in the Bundesliga and 4.0 in the UCL. Alaba’s versatility and ability to perform in those positions will make it easier for Frank Lampard to change formation in-game. He’s also has a lot of Champions League experience, and he could be tempted to leave for a new challenge in the Premier League. Finally, even if his price tag is around £55m, his contract ends in the summer of 2021, meaning Bayern could be encouraged to lower their price tag and sell.
Another one is Nicolás Tagliafico from AFC Ajax. The former Banfield Youth Academy product joined Independiente for £2.5m in February 2015, before joining Ajax three years later for £3.6m (January 2018). The now 27-year-old has featured in almost every game for the “Godenzonen”, and his style is quite balanced: not only does he move up the pitch to provide more passing options (in the Eredivisie per game, 3.5 crosses at a 29% accuracy last season, 2.3 crosses at a 26% accuracy this season) and goalscoring opportunities (2 goals and 4 assists last season, 3 goals and 4 assists this season; 0.8 shots per game and 1.2 key passes last season, 1.2 shots and 1.0 key passes this season), but also tracks back to prevent counter-attacks (per game, 2.1 interceptions and 1.9 clearances last season, 1.7 interceptions and 2.1 clearances this season; 6.7 total duels won last season and 6.8 this season). Not since the days of Ashley Cole have we seen that type of left-back. As a teammate of our new signing Hakim Ziyech, the Argentinian has a price tag along the lines of £35m and two years left on his contract (from this summer). Therefore, Ajax will be starting to look at whether they should sell Tagliafico and find a suitable replacement (or offer him a new contract).
So out of these four players, who is the best option? Currently, only two stick out: David Alaba and Nicolás Tagliafico. Alaba would add Champions League experience and formation flexibility, while Tagliafico is a complete full-back with similar attributes to Reece James. Since Lampard wants his full-backs to provide width and good crossing abilities, both are good options, but Alaba would be the ideal target.
Despite this, Chelsea have seen good performances of late from Marcos Alonso, so having him as a backup option will give Juan Castillo and Ian Maatsen additional seasons of loan experience, before the Spaniard becomes too slow or too old to rely on as a backup. Unfortunately for Emerson, this does mean that he will need to be sold in the summer.
Next up: the centre-backs.
THE CENTRE-BACK SITUATION: SIGN, KEEP & SELL
The most challenging thing for the Blues during the summer of 2017 was finding a replacement for John Terry after his contract expired after the 2016/17 season. His leadership was a mark of inspiration, both on and off the pitch, and would be very difficult to replace. Gary Cahill was given the captaincy for the 2017/18 season, with César Azpilicueta as his vice-captain. The roles were then reserved for the following season as Cahill wasn’t performing, but Azpilicueta didn’t seem as vocal as the centre-backs, let alone the new signing Jorginho. Not only that, but none of our current centre-backs offer a commanding presence on and off the ball, which is a huge concern. Chelsea must dip into the transfer market to find the heir to John Terry.
First up is Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille OSC. The former Avaí Youth Academy product joined Lille for £2.7m in January 2017. In the 2017/18 season, the now 22-year-old spent a year on loan at two different clubs (first Troyes and then GNK Dinamo Zagreb), before featuring regularly for Lille beginning February 2019. Defensively, he has the height (6’3”) to dominate in the air, he’s a capable tackler, and he’s able to comfortably cover the full-backs when they move up the pitch (this season per game, 0.9 interceptions and 3.3 clearances in Ligue 1, 2.2 interceptions and 3.7 clearances in the UCL; 6.3 total duels won in Ligue 1, 2.8 of which are ground duels and 3.5 are aerial duels, and 4.7 in the UCL, 2.7 of which are ground duels and 2.0 are aerial duels). Offensively, while Lille play short or medium passes, Gabriel averages 3.7/9.3 accurate long balls per game in Ligue 1 and 2.8/8.5 in the UCL, and he’s able to play long diagonal passes. He’s also their most common passer (per game, 62 average passes at an 82% accuracy in Ligue 1, 44.1 average passes at a 76% accuracy in the UCL). While it is reported that Chelsea are interested in the player, this is his first full season with Lille, and Chelsea need a player with more experience.
Then you have Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli. The former FC Metz Youth Academy product joined KRC Genk for £1.2m in the summer of 2012, before joining Napoli two seasons later for £7m. Defensively, the 28-year-old is physical (he isn’t afraid to be aggressive with his opponents), tall (6’2”) and fast enough to get into good positions to stop the play (in the Serie A per game, 1.1 interceptions and 3.9 clearances last season, 1.1 interceptions and 2.8 clearances this season; 4.7 total duels won last season, 2.5 of which are ground duels and 2.2 are aerial duels, and 6.1 total duels won this season, 3.8 of which are ground duels and 2.3 are aerial duels). He’s also a leader on the pitch: he constantly communicates and instructs his teammates in defence. Offensively, the Senegalese is a ball-playing centre-back with decent passing (per game, 71.9 average passes at an 89.3% accuracy last season, 64.7 average passes at an 88.7% accuracy this season; 4.5/7.9 accurate long balls last season, 4.2/7.2 this season). Even though he’ll turn 29 this year (and 30 next year), he hasn’t reached his prime yet. The main problem will be trying to lure him away: his player value is at £65.7m (but his price tag could go as high as £90m), and Marina has had a tough time negotiating with Aurelio De Laurentiis in the past (for Maurizio Sarri). Add on top of that, Koulibaly’s been injured since mid-December; he’s simply not worth spending that amount of money right now.
Another is Milan Škriniar from Inter Milan. The MŠK Žilina Youth Academy product joined Sampdoria for £5.4m in January 2016, before joining Inter for £30.6m in the summer of 2017. Since his arrival the 25-year-old has regularly featured for the “Nerazzurri,” missing only three Serie A matches in his three seasons at the club. The Slovakian is a very versatile player. While this season’s heatmap shows he regularly plays at left centre-back, he’s able to slot in at right centre-back, right-back (either when covering the space left behind by the full-back or as a traditional full-back) or central defensive midfield. Defensively he’s able to anticipate the opposition’s ball movement and the holes in defence, resulting in him being composed and getting into good positions to stop the play. He also constantly communicates and instructs his teammates, a marker of a true leader. With his physicality and height (6’2”), he’s able to comfortably and aggressively limit the time or space for the opposition to create a chance, make recovery runs and counter-press, and win the ball in the air (in the Serie A per game, 0.9 interceptions and 2.9 clearances last season, 0.8 interceptions and 3.8 clearances this season; 4.8 total duels won last season, 2.8 of which are ground duels and 2.0 are aerial duels, and 3.2 total duels won this season, 2.0 of which are ground duels and 1.2 are aerial duels). Offensively, he’s able to play penetrative balls into the midfield and the wings (per game, 68.6 average passes at a 92.6% accuracy last season, 65.2 average passes at an 92.3% accuracy this season; 3.6/5.3 accurate long balls last season and 3.9/5.6 this season), and he loves to dribble past the first line of press (0.2 successful dribbles per game last and this season). In short, Škriniar is a powerhouse, another Virgil Van Dijk, and when you’re playing alongside amazing defenders in Diego Godin and Stefan De Vrij, these stats don’t give him the credit the deserves. Put him alongside Antonio Rüdiger thought, and you’ll see those stats fly up. With a rumoured price tag of around £60-70m, and with Real Madrid and Barcelona competing for his signature, the Blues will get more defensive solidity should the Slovak join them.
Next up is Nathan Aké from AFC Bournemouth. The former Chelsea Youth Academy product joined the Cherries for £20.4m in the summer of 2017, and since then he’s been a regular starter for the side. The 24-year-old is quite a versatile player too: while this season’s heatmap shows he regularly plays at left centre-back, he’s able to slot in at left-back (but more as a traditional full-back rather than the modern-day version) or as a holding midfielder. Defensively, he contributes through his tackling, and with his pace and acceleration he’s able to comfortably keep up with the fast forwards (in the Premier League per game, 0.8 interceptions and 6.1 clearances last season, 1.3 interceptions and 5.4 clearances this season; 4.6 total duels won last season, 2.3 of which are ground duels, and 3.6 total duels won this season, 1.5 of which are ground duels). With his work rate he’s also able to anticipate the play and the dangerous points from the opposition. But with a height of 5’10”, he struggles with aerial duels (per game, 2.3 last season and 2.1 this season). Offensively, he loves to bring possession out from the back, and uses his technical and tactical abilities to relieve pressure from opposition pressing and to build attacking threats (per game, 44.6 average passes at an 86% accuracy last season, 43.0 average passes at an 88.1% accuracy this season; 1.9/4.3 accurate long balls last season and 1.8/3.7 this season). While Aké very versatile and his ground duels are better than all the current Chelsea CBs, his aerial duels are cause for concern due to his height. He’ll do well if paired with a commanding CB, but none of them exist at Chelsea right now.
Finally there’s Rúben Dias from SL Benfica. The Benfica Youth Academy product joined the First Team in the summer of 2017, and has been a regular starter since January 2018. Defensively, the 22-year-old is rarely out of position and isn’t afraid to be aggressive with his opponents. He’s physical, tall (6’2”), fast enough to prevent counter-attacks and aggressive enough to deal with all kinds of duels (in Primeira Liga per game, 0.9 interceptions and 3.4 clearances last season, 0.9 interceptions and 2.8 clearances this season; 5.3 total duels won last season, 2.1 of which are ground duels and 3.2 are aerial duels, and 4.2 total duels won this season, 2.0 of which are ground duels and 2.1 are aerial duels). Offensively, the Portuguese is a ball-playing centre-back with amazing long-range passing (I’m not joking): he’s able to play the ball over the top or through the gaps to the striker (a role you’d see more from a midfielder) and dribble the ball into midfield comfortably and offer an aerial threat from set-pieces (per game, 58.3 average passes at an 86.3% accuracy last season, 64.1 average passes at an 88.8% accuracy this season; 4.4/8.8 accurate long balls last season, 5.3/8.8 this season). Basically, Dias has similar traits to Virgil Van Dijk, Kalidou Koulibaly and Matthjis de Ligt; and that makes him a great candidate. He doesn’t come cheaply though (a £60m release clause), but he’ll slot into the starting XI quite easily.
Out of these five options, Rúben Dias is a great target, but Milan Škriniar is the one that stands out. The Blues must do whatever it takes to sign Škriniar and convince him to join them instead of the Spanish giants. However, given the Blues have four centre-backs right now, it’s clear that at least one of them will have to leave in the summer to compensate for the arrival of the Slovakian.
Andreas Christensen has been given ample opportunities to prove himself, but hasn’t been able to maintain a regular starting spot. He started the season alongside Kurt Zouma, before losing his spot to Fikayo Tomori after the September international break. He then returned to the Main Squad for Aston Villa at home, but was dropped again following the return of Antonio Rüdiger. He returned in 2020 for Burnley home but he hasn’t been convincing. Like Caballero he featured in all February matches, but he wasn’t exactly convincing. While the Dane is technically better than his counterparts, especially with his long-range passing, his lack of physicality and speed to take on the opposition forwards (especially in 1v1 situations) does create a problem.
Antonio Rüdiger was Chelsea’s best and most talented defender in the 2018/19 season, especially with his aerial duels, pace and physicality. However, he hasn’t featured as much as the other centre-backs due to injuries: He suffered a knee injury against Man United in April 2019 which required surgery. He returned against Wolves in September, but again suffered a groin injury. He returned to full fitness against Lille in December, and since then he’s barely missed a single Premier League match. This clearly shows that Frank values him as a player. Given his abilities and his impressive performances against Leicester, Liverpool and Everton, it’s hard not to see why. There were a couple of games where he underperformed, but I think it’s because he’s not suited to the three-at-the-back formations.
Fikayo Tomori stepped up to the plate when the opportunity presented itself in September, and two months later he’s developed into Chelsea’s best CB in Rüdiger’s absence. However, lapses in concentration against Man City and West Ham saw him dropped to the bench for Aston Villa and Everton, before being injured for the following two games prior to Spurs away. He was then played in a back three versus Spurs, but was dropped again to the backup role following his poor performances against Southampton and Arsenal. Since then, he’s only featured against non-Premier League sides in the FA Cup, before featuring against AFC Bournemouth, but was subbed off for his poor performance. For the life of me I can’t seem to understand what has happened to Tomori since the November International Break. It’s like his twin brother decided to take his place or something.
Kurt Zouma impressed at Everton last season, especially given his injury back in 2015/16 that made him lose several yards of pace. This season, he’s started the most out of the centre-backs (30 games out of the 33 he’s featured in) and has impressed in September and October. However, he has struggled to perform in key moments for the Blues after Burnley away, largely due to his pace. Those poor performances were overshadowed by Tomori’s in November and then Christensen’s in December. However, following the return of Antonio Rüdiger, Lampard started to realise how much Zouma was struggling, and so he was dropped after Brighton away. He then featured in the next 4/12 matches, including the last two against Liverpool (FA Cup) and Everton (EPL), yet didn’t perform that well either.
The Blues can’t have injury-prone and underperforming centre-backs. The good thing is none of the centre-backs are injury-prone, but the bad news is they are all underperforming at different stages, making it so difficult to choose the best option. Rüdiger has performed quite well of late, and it’s Tomori’s first season with the First Team. The best option would be to sell Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma, sign Milan Škriniar, and either have César Azpilicueta or one of our loanees (Jake Clarke-Salter, Marc Guehi, Trevor Chalobah) as the 4th centre-back.
Now onto the right-backs.
FINDING A BACKUP FOR REECE JAMES?
Reece James has shown a lot of promise since his arrival to Chelsea’s development program at the age of six (especially for the Under-18s), so much so that he signed a new contract in June 2018 before leaving for a season-long loan to Wigan Athletic. His time with the Latics was a massive success: he kept Wigan up in the Championship, won Wigan’s Player of the Year (by a whopping 96%), Wigan’s Players’ Player of the Year and Wigan’s Goal of the Season (his wonder-goal against Bristol City) awards, won four EFL Championship Player of the Month awards and was named in the EFL Championship Team of the Year.
However, after his loan spell with Wigan he suffered an ankle injury while on international duty, keeping him out until the end of the September International Break. He was then included in Chelsea’s First-Team squad on a rotational basis, but has proven himself when given the opportunity early on: an amazing 20-yard curler goal against Grimsby Town, keeping Zaha quiet on his Premier League debut against Crystal Palace, a dramatic equaliser against Ajax in our comeback from 4-1 down to a 4-4 draw, and more.
What makes him stand out from other right-backs is his versatility (right-back, wing-back and central midfield), crossing (from wide areas of the pitch), physical (very well built) and set-piece (while at Wigan) abilities.
In terms of stats per game (last season in the Championship and this season in the Premier League): 3 goals and 3 assists last season, 0 goals and 2 assists this season; 0.8 shots and 1.6 key passes last season, 0.5 shots and 0.9 key passes this season; 37.2 average passes at a 72.3% accuracy last season, 40.1 at an 87% accuracy this season; 2.8/7.8 long balls last season and 1.5/3.1 this season; 5.9 crosses at a 27% accuracy last season, 4.8 crosses at a 23% accuracy this season; 0.9 interceptions and 2.3 clearances last season, 0.9 interceptions and 0.8 clearances this season; 6.3 total duels won last season, 4.4 of which are ground duels and 1.9 are aerial, and 5.2 total duels won this season, 4.0 of which are ground duels and 1.2 are aerial.
Apart from the average passes and its accuracy, these stats per game are lower this season compared to last season, showing it takes time to adjust to the Premier League when playing the previous season in the Championship.
Despite that Reece James doesn’t have the ability to play week-in-week-out in the Premier League, especially if the Blues qualify for the Champions League next season. He’s going to need a player who he can not only compete with (regardless of whether either are fatigued or on a poor run of form), but also someone who can mentor him into one of the best right-backs in the world.
While César Azpilicueta could be considered the right candidate for mentoring, the 30-year-old doesn’t have the attacking full-back ability he used to, and as stated previously it would be better if he was shifted to centre-back. Therefore, it might be best if the Blues dip into the transfer market for this one.
One option would be Kyle Walker from Manchester City. The former Sheffield United Youth Academy product joined Tottenham Hotspur for £5.3m in the summer of 2009, before joining the Citizens for £50.4m in the summer of 2017. The 29-year-old will be turning 30 in May, and Pep Guardiola already has a replacement in João Cancelo (therefore the Englishman’s game time could be cut short next season). The two-time Premier League champion is known for his passing (in the Premier League per game, 72.4 average passes at a 90.1% accuracy last season, 67.5 average passes at an 88.9% accuracy this season; 3.5/6.0 accurate long balls last season and 4.4/6.8 this season), pace, ball control and aerial duels (per game, 1.4 last season and 1.1 this season), skills Reece James could improve a lot under his tutelage, especially when they both have a similar height and build (4cm and 4kg apart). However, his weaknesses mainly revolve around tackling (per game, 1.1 interceptions and 1.5 clearances last season, 1.0 interceptions and 1.4 clearances this season; 3.5 total duels won last season, 2.2 of which are ground duels, and 3.6 total duels won this season, 2.5 of which are ground duels) and crossing (per game, 1.4 crosses at a 7% accuracy last season, 1.8 crosses at a 17% accuracy this season), and hasn’t offered much of a goalscoring threat (1 goal and 1 assist last season, 1 goal and 2 assists this season; 0.4 shots per game and 0.7 key passes last season, 0.4 shots and 0.5 key passes this season). Should the Blues qualify for the Champions League next season, with Man City facing a two-year ban from European football, Walker could be tempted to join the Blues. He’s also not suffered any short-term or long-term injury since the 2014/15 season, which is even more of a reason for the Blues to pursue a player of his calibre. With a player value of around £40m, Walker could be a decent signing to mentor Reece James.
Another is Alessandro Florenzi from AS Roma (on loan at Valencia CF). The former Roma Youth Academy product joined the First Team in the summer of 2012 and was loaned out to the “Ches” in January 2020. The 29-year-old went on loan because AS Roma were in the Europa League and he was keener to play for a team in the Champions League (unfortunately Valencia was knocked out by Atalanta in the Round of 16). Short of the Serie A season resuming, Roma are currently on track to be in the Europa League next season, so Florenzi could be tempted to join the Blues as well. Because he’s only played three La Liga matches for Valencia, I’ll be focusing on stats relating to Roma only. The Italian has many strengths: He’s a well-rounded player with versatility (right-back, wing-back and central midfield); a high work rate in both defence and attack, especially with his speed and stamina; good technical and distribution abilities (in the Serie A per game, 39.5 average passes at a 78.2% accuracy last season, 41.6 average passes at an 82.0% accuracy this season; 3.5/6.0 accurate long balls last season and 3.2/5.7 this season), especially with his crossing and set-pieces (per game, 4.4 crosses at a 32% accuracy last season, 2.1 crosses at a 24% accuracy this season); and contributes at a decent level to goalscoring opportunities (3 goals and 2 assists last season, 0 goal and 1 assist this season; 0.9 shots per game and 1.4 key passes last season, 0.8 shots and 0.9 key passes this season). However, he struggles with tackling (per game, 1.6 interceptions and 1.8 clearances last season, 1.1 interceptions and 1.3 clearances this season; 2.9 total duels won last season, 2.4 of which are ground duels, and 2.9 total duels won this season, 2.1 of which are ground duels) and aerial duels due to his height of 5’8” (per game, 0.6 last season and 0.6 this season). The only concern is that he has suffered two or three short term injuries per season (ranging from cases of flu to knee injuries). Barring injury concerns and his physical attributes, Florenzi can improve Reece James’ all round-game, and with his leadership for Roma and a player value of £17.1m, he could be an asset for the Blues.
Next is Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid (on loan at Borussia Dortmund). The 21-year-old was loaned out to the “BVB” in the summer of 2018 on a two-year deal, because the Meringues wanted him to get more game time. He was known as a promising attacking full-back when he joined Dortmund, and now he’s playing regularly and performing beyond expectations. The Moroccan has many strengths: He’s quite versatile (left-back, right-back, left-midfield, right-midfield); he’s consistent; he has good technical and distribution abilities (in the Bundesliga per game, 63.4 average passes at an 86.1% accuracy last season, 60.3 average passes at an 84.7% accuracy this season; 2.1/4.2 accurate long balls last season and 1.7/3.1 this season), especially with his ball control, crossing and dribbling (per game, 2.4 crosses at a 17% accuracy last season, 2.9 crosses at a 17% accuracy this season); he’s contributed a fair amount to Dortmund’s goals (2 goals and 4 assists last season, 3 goals and 10 assists this season; 0.7 shots per game and 0.5 key passes last season, 0.9 shots and 1.2 key passes this season); he’s good defensively (per game, 1.4 interceptions and 1.8 clearances last season, 1.0 interceptions and 0.6 clearances this season; 5.9 total duels won last season, 5.1 of which are ground duels, and 6.1 total duels won this season, 5.7 of which are ground duels), but struggles with aerial duels (per game, 0.7 last season and 0.4 this season) despite being 6’0”. In short, Hakimi will provide much needed competition for Reece James. He also has a player value of £41.4m and is already being targeting by other elite European clubs like Bayern Munich, so he won’t come cheaply.
Finally, there’s Youcef Atal from OGC Nice. The 23-year-old joined the “Aiglons” in the summer of 2018 (to replace Ricardo Pereira who joined Leicester City), and since then he’s been a regular starter. Unfortunately, the Algerian suffered a long-term knee injury in December, and he’s expected to be out until May 2020. Based on his abilities prior to his injury, he’s quite versatile (he can play in any position on the left and right flank), he’s extremely fast, he has decent distribution (in Ligue 1 per game, 34.9 average passes at an 83.6% accuracy last season, 32.8 average passes at an 81.0% accuracy this season; 2.1/4.2 accurate long balls last season and 1.7/3.1 this season). amazing dribbling skills (he always tries to get past his opponent instead of dropping back), and surprisingly is amazing defensively (per game, 1.9 interceptions and 1.3 clearances last season, 1.8 interceptions and 0.5 clearances this season; 9.3 total duels won last season, 7.7 of which are ground duels and 1.6 aerial duels last season, and 8.6 total duels won this season, 7.3 of which are ground duels and 1.3 aerial duels last season). However, despite having a good end product (6 goals and 0.9 shots per game last season, 1 goal and 1.3 shots this season), he struggles to create chances (0 assists and 0.8 key passes last season, 1 assist and 0.8 key passes this season) and has poor crossing abilities (per game, 1.7 crosses at a 53% accuracy last season, 1.5 crosses at a 60% accuracy this season). Once he comes back from injury, it might be best for him to improve on those areas before even considering moving.
In the end, there are a lot of options to consider, but the best way to resolve it is as follows: if the Blues need someone who can compete with Reece James week-in-week-out, then target Achraf Hakimi. If they need someone who can mentor him while playing as a backup, then stick with Cesar Azpilicueta. If they need someone who can compete and mentor, then target Kyle Walker or Alessandro Florenzi. I personally believe it will benefit Reece James more to have someone who can compete and mentor him into one of the best right-backs in the world, so signing Walker or Florenzi would the best option.
Now onto the last segment: the goalkeepers.
ARE KEPA ARRIZABALAGA AND WILLY CABALLERO GOOD ENOUGH FOR CHELSEA?
It’s the 3rd August 2018 and Thibault Courtois hands in a transfer request via his agent, to force a move from the Blues for the Spanish giants Real Madrid. Five days later the Belgian goalkeeper is on his way to Real Madrid, after Chelsea triggered a £71.6m release clause from Athletic Bilbao for Kepa Arrizabalaga (making the Spaniard the most expensive goalkeeper signing of all time). The then 23-year-old was signed as a panic buy because of poor planning and not being able to sign top-class goalkeepers (like Jan Oblak).
Fast forward to the end of the 2018/19 season and Kepa has proven himself quite useful in his first season for the Blues: 14 clean sheets (3rd in the Premier League) and a 66.7% save percentage (9th in the Premier League). Despite the incident in the Carabao Cup Final with Maurizio Sarri and Willy Caballero, many believed that he could still improve and become a world-class goalkeeper in a few years from now. Even if it wasn’t perfect, his first season was much better than David De Gea’s at Manchester United.
Now onto the 1st February 2020, and the Spaniard is not in a good place so far this season: 5 clean sheets in 24 games; a 53.6% save percentage (the worst in the Premier League); 32 goals conceded (which represents 16% of all shots faced). He’s also been dropped to the bench ahead of Willy Caballero for the Leicester fixture. Fans were also calling for the club to sell him in the summer and sign another goalkeeper. Names like Nick Pope (Burnley), Andre Onana (Ajax), Mike Maignan (Lille), Vincente Guaita (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Dean Henderson (Sheffield United) and Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid) were thrown about by the media.
After six weeks, the Spaniard finally made his return to the starting XI in the Carabao Cup Fifth Round against Liverpool. His performance against the Merseyside club was rather impressive: 5 shots on target, all saved (including the impressive triple save), and 3 clearances. It seemed that being dropped for so long as well as the reports linking his transfer lit up a fire of anger in him, and the Kepa we knew from last season had come back much more improved. He then featured against Everton in the Premier League and coped quite well against Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (although they weren’t supplied as much as you would expect, and they struggled to get more than 1/3 shots on target).
While this may have been forgotten, there was a time where David De Gea also struggled to perform to what was required of him. When the Spanish goalkeeper signed for Manchester United for the 2011/12 season, he struggled a lot to fill in the gloves of Peter Schmeichel and Edwin Van der Sar. Indeed, the now 29-year-old had a horrendous first six months and was benched for the next four games after New Years. During those months he was put through regular gym training and protein drinks routine, sometimes even physically forced to do so. On his return following Lindegaard’s injury, the training routine proved to be an absolute gamechanger and United went on a nine-game undefeated run (including eight straight wins). In the 2012/13 season he was rotated heavily until December, when Ferguson was confident enough to give him the regular No.1 spot. He then grew from strength to strength and became a world-class keeper as time went on.
So now onto the question: is Kepa Arrizabalaga good enough for Chelsea, or should the Blues look to sign a new goalkeeper for the 2020/21 season? My answer: give him time. Player development doesn’t happen overnight, and just like outfield players, goalkeepers are prone to making mistakes. As Sir Alex Ferguson would say: “Outfield players maybe make 20 mistakes in a game, but goalkeepers are in a crucial position.” While Kepa is smaller than De Gea, he does have a lot more weight, which makes it easier for him to deal with the physicality of the Premier League. So long as the Blues goalkeeper keeps up with his shot-stopping acrobatics and analyses the former Spaniard Iker Casillas (especially for near post saves, aerial saves and one-on-one situations), I have high hopes for Arrizabalaga.
Now onto Willy Caballero. The former Boca Juniors Youth Academy product joined Elche CF for £630k, before joining Málaga for £810k in February 2011 and Manchester City for 7.2m in the summer of 2014. The 38-year-old goalkeeper then joined Chelsea on a free transfer in the summer of 2017 and was brought in to replace Asmir Begović (who left for AFC Bournemouth). His last contributions for the Blues were for six consecutive matches over a five-week period (from the win against Hull City in the FA Cup to the Bournemouth draw in the Premier League).
Contrary to Kepa Arrizabalaga, who’s known for his shot-stopping acrobatics, the Argentine is known for his penalty saving abilities. Also, given he was way past his prime when Chelsea signed him, I highly doubt that keeping him for next season will benefit the club. When the Spanish goalkeeper was underperforming, Caballero was given the opportunity to step in and shine, but even then he struggled. Lapses in concentration against Leicester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and AFC Bournemouth… that doesn’t inspire confidence. The Blues must find a replacement this summer.
The only player I can think of who wouldn’t mind that much being a backup option is Jack Butland from Stoke City. The former Birmingham City Youth Academy product joined Stoke City for £3.4m in January 2013. He also went through a lot of loan spells in both clubs, before earning a regular starting spot from the 2015/16 season. The 27-year-old goalkeeper is very agile, despite his height (6’4”) and size (95kg). The Englishman’s reflexes are much better than Caballero’s, and he’s known for his long range passing and concentration. He’s very keen on returning to the Premier League, and for a value of £6.9m he could be worth it.
To conclude everything that has been said:
- Chelsea need a natural and attacking left-back with good crossing ability, and the ideal option is David Alaba (with Nicolás Tagliafico as an alternative option);
- They need a commanding centre-back with some leadership, and the best option is Milan Škriniar (with Rúben Dias as alternative options), but also need to sell at least one current Chelsea centre-back (I recommend selling both Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma, and having either César Azpilicueta or one of our loanees as the 4th centre-back);
- They’ll need a backup option for Reece James as Cézar Azpilicueta isn’t as good as he used to be at-right-back, but they’ll be able to find it in either Kyle Walker or Alessandro Florenzi;
- Just like David De Gea who struggled in his first 20 months at Manchester United, the Chelsea fans and coaching staff must give Kepa Arrizabalaga time to improve from strength to strength, and not force the board to splash the cash on a player like Jan Oblak;
- They need to find a replacement for Willy Caballero as he’s way past his prime, and Jack Butland could be the best option right now.
And that’s all for now! Apologies if it was quite long. Next up will be a similar article based on what Chelsea should change in midfield to implement Lampard’s style of play. If you’ve enjoyed it, don’t forget to like and share this article!
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[All statistics were used from WhoScored and SofaScore]
Edited by: Dan