After what could end up being the single greatest transfer window in Premier League History, where do Chelsea go from here?
It has been, euphoric, to say the least. While many Chelsea fans are still riding the high produced by the glorious images of Kai Havertz in Chelsea training kits and match kits (and who could blame them), others may still be pinching themselves after seeing Timo Werner score a mere 4 minutes into his pre-season debut, and I am sure there are quite a few also anticipating the imminent (confirmed by Romano and DiMarzio, possibly announced by the club at the time you are reading this) arrival of Édouard Mendy as Chelsea’s 8th signing of the window. Chelsea’s transfer window has been one for the ages.
It all began with Hakim Ziyech in February, then produced one of the craziest 48 hour periods that I can remember in mid-June with Timo Werner day, all before the window even officially opened. Once it did, Xavier Mbuyamba was the first through the door, although his first season with the Blues will be spent primarily with the youth set-up. Ben Chilwell was the next to arrive from Leicester, Malang Sarr and Thiago Silva immediately followed Chilwell on consecutive days, both arriving on free transfers from Nice and PSG respectively. Then, just a week later, the announcement everyone knew would happen but still felt like it took 6 months to actually happen, Kai Havertz, finally arrived from Bayer Leverkusen.
Under most circumstances, and for most clubs, getting just 2 of the players above in a singular transfer window would be considered extraordinary business, but given the current financial landscape of global football due to the pandemic, and the subsequent inability or reluctance of the traditional “big boys” (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and so on) to “splash the cash” on marquee signings, what Chelsea have been able to do becomes that much more impressive. Yes, this was planned for, and yes it was helped by a confluence of circumstances lining up in Chelsea’s favor, but that should not in any way detract from the monumental leap forward that Chelsea have taken in a singular transfer window, not only in trying to close the 33 point gap to Premier League Champions Liverpool from last season, but also in their overall squad rebuild.
With that said, there is still more work to be done. It may be quite a damming statement of the state the squad was in over the past few seasons, but despite spending over £200 million so far this window, there are still holes to be filled, and players that need to be moved out. So where do Chelsea go from here? Where are the holes and how do they get filled? Who is here for the long term, and whose future lies away from SW6? Well, let’s go position group by position group and take a look.
Certainly Chelsea’s most unsettled position long-term, there is quite a lot up in the air around the Goalkeepers. There is no real way to sugar coat it, Chelsea have dug themselves a very large hole in the goalkeeping department that they will have to find a way out of somehow. Jokes about the short keeper putting Chelsea into a deep hole aside, Kepa Arrizabalaga has become a major headache for Chelsea and Frank Lampard. The world record signing turned in one of the worst seasons (statistically probably THE worst season) in Premier League history last year, causing even his most resilient defenders to question him. Lampard made no mistake in letting Kepa know that he was not cutting it, dropping the Spaniard for an extended run of fixtures after the turn of the year, and again for the final league match of the season against Wolves and subsequent FA Cup Final, and Champions League match against Bayern. Chelsea have made every attempt to move Arrizabalaga this summer, but with 5 years of his 7 year contract (rumored to be around £170,000 per week), and around £50 million of his £72 million transfer fee still on the books, Chelsea were unable to find any takers.
Despite the financials making it seem inevitable that Kepa will be staying at Chelsea this season, the imminent arrival of Édouard Mendy added to the multiple stories and reports that have come out, indicate that Kepa’s days as Chelsea’s #1 are likely behind him. Now that is not to say he will never appear on a Frank Lampard team sheet again, quite the contrary, he will likely appear on quite a few, but likely with the sole intention of keeping him in reasonable playing shape to maintain his transfer value, rather than reopening his path to a starting job. Whether in January or next summer, getting Kepa off the books will remain a high priority for Marina Granovskaia.
Last season’s #2, and at times #1, is soon-to-be 39 year old Willy Caballero, who signed a 1 year extension to his contract towards the end of last season, at the time likely assuming he would serve as backup to Kepa or whoever Chelsea’s new #1 would be. It will be interesting to see now, with the imminent arrival of Mendy and Kepa sticking around for another season, what Willy chooses to do. Willy is unlikely to spend what could be his final season as 3rd choice, especially if the rumored interest from Real Betis in Spain materializes further.
Much of the future planning for the goal keeper position will depend on how Mendy performs once he arrives. Should he show that he is good enough to be the solution in the long term, Chelsea may only need to focus on moving Kepa on and finding a suitable back-up. However, should Mendy have issues adapting or leave any lingering questions, a pursuit of a new world class goalkeeper would certainly be on the horizon next summer. That could mean a more serious pursuit of Jan Oblak, further exploring the Gianluigi Donnarumma contract situation with Milan and Mino Raiola, reigniting interest in a potentially unsettled Dean Henderson, or chasing emerging talents like Predrag Rajković or Alban Lafont.
Time will tell when it comes to the goal keeping position at Chelsea, and hopefully by mid-season we have a better feel on whether or not Mendy is the long term answer, or simply a stop gap signing. If you are one of those who are always looking for the bright side of the story, just think, “it couldn’t be any worse…right?”
With the signing of Ben Chilwell, Chelsea should have both fullback spots secured for the next 7-10 years, with Chilwell on the left, and Reece James on the right. Not only should Chilwell and James be securing Chelsea’s fullback spots, but one Trent Alexander-Arnold aside, there is a real possibility that they could be securing England’s fullback spots as well, and that should excite every Chelsea fan.
It would be a disservice not to insert Dave, aka. César Azpilicueta into the conversation. The club captain and dedicated servant is now 31, and as he begins to slow down some, his role may start evolving into more of a deputy for Reece James or Ben Chilwell, thanks to his ability to cover both fullback positions. Despite a bit of a slow start to last season, Azpi has certainly shown he is more than capable of holding down a starting spot when called upon, giving Chelsea 3 excellent starting quality options for the right and left back roles.
With Chilwell, James and Azpilicueta locked in, 3 of the ideally 4 fullback roles in the squad are accounted for. With Davide Zappacosta and Baba Rahman both looking destined for the exit door, Marcos Alonso and Emerson have been left to compete for the 4th fullback spot, with the loser also likely moving on. While the early part of the transfer season saw rumors flying of interest from Italy in both players, of late, it had only been Emerson that seemed to be generating interest. However within the last week, the narrative seemed to reverse course, with Alonso now the rumored favorite to move on. Regardless of who goes or stays, what we do know is neither player is really part of any long term plan that Chelsea or Frank has. While Alonso does have the advantage of providing the odd goal contribution over the course of the season and giving the option of a natural wing back, whichever player stays will likely see limited minutes and be moved on at the next reasonable opportunity.
Whether it is Alonso or Emerson that stays this season, they will need to be replaced with a new left back in the very near future, but bringing in a new left back 12-18 months down the line could be a bit more of a complicated operation for Chelsea then some might assume. The issue would be in convincing a player of the quality needed to sign knowing that they walk in the door as 2nd choice. Need examples? Look no further then Spurs with Harry Kane, Liverpool with their front 3 or TAA and Robertson. If Ben Chilwell (and Reece James as well for that matter when Dave eventually moves on) establish themselves to the level that they are expected to, it will be very difficult to fill out the needed depth in the squad in those positions. The good news for Chelsea is, one way to solve the problem is to promote from within, and that may be a plan that Chelsea already have in motion.
At left back, the pathway seems clearest for Ian Maatsen to eventually make the step up to first team football. Maatsen made his debut in the Grimsby match in September 2019, getting 24 minutes off the bench. Maatsen has also been handed a contract that keeps him at the club until at least 2024, which should give him plenty of opportunity to firmly establish himself once Alonso departs.
At right back, should Azpi need replacing in the near-ish future, Chelsea’s internal options are not so cut and dry. There is definitely talent in the system, Marcel Lavinier, Dujon Sterling, and even Henry Lawrence have shown promise at right back in the academy set-up, but Sterling is the only one to have a taste of senior football to date, having spent last season on loan at Wigan. The development of these three players this season could determine Chelsea’s future planning in the right back area. Fortunately for the Blues, Azpilicueta looks likely to give them a few more years to think things over before giving way.
While Goalkeeper may be Chelsea’s most unsettled position, it only narrowly beats out the Center Back for most work to be done. Injury and inconsistency contributed to a wildly unsettled defensive set up last season that saw Chelsea concede the most goals of any team inside the top half of the table. While Chelsea have brought in 3 Center Back’s this window, Thiago Silva is the only one who is expected to be involved with the first team, with Malang Sarr heading out on loan and Xavier Mbuyamba working with the development team.
Silva will join the group that currently includes Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, and Fikayo Tomori, with one of those expected to move on. It was believe that a Tomori loan to Everton was on the cards, however, the momentum of that deal seems to have stalled and the possibility of Tomori remaining at Chelsea next season looks to be increasing. Whether he stays this season or goes on loan, all indications are he is still in the future plans at Stamford Bridge.
It is hard to see Chelsea carrying 5 center backs into a season, and if Tomori does stay, that would mean one of Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, or Kurt Zouma could be on the way out. Rudiger and Christensen both have just 2 years remaining on their contracts, and neither having been offered or even opened renewal talks with the club. Rudiger is coming off what many could deem as a horror show of a season, littered with mistakes that led to goals conceded, and Christensen, despite showing glimmers of immense quality, has yet to be able to sustain the level needed to establish himself in the Chelsea side. With performances not quite up to standard and contracts running down, there is always the possibility of a move for either player this window, but the more likely scenario would see both move on next summer.
That leaves the enigma of the current group, Kurt Zouma. Thought of by many as Chelsea’s best center back at the end of last season, rumors of a summer move to PSG baffled most fans. Most believed that the club were looking to ship out their best defender until it was revealed that it was actually Zouma’s camp seeking out the move and that Chelsea were only open to it knowing that Zouma would be the center back to bring the largest return in the market. This seemed to be taking place during a time where Zouma was not consistently in the team and perhaps did not see his future at Stamford Bridge. After the restart however, things changed, and Zouma stepped up. Now, to many fans delight the rumors and transfer talks around Zouma have vanished, and he looks set to stay at Stamford Bridge for at least the upcoming season. There will still be questions about whether Zouma is set to be a long term fixture in London, or whether he would prefer a move back to his native France, but if his post restart performances continue, he should easily outlast his German and Danish counterparts.
Whether or not Chelsea carry 4 or 5 center backs this season, some things are still certain. Thiago Silva is a short term option, only here on a 1+1 contract at 36 years old, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger look more likely to leave the club within the next 12-18 months then stay, and Kurt Zouma’s long-term future is undecided. There are multiple scenario’s that could see Chelsea could lose 4 center backs next summer, so needless to say, 1-2 center backs arriving in the next few transfer window’s is a pretty safe bet.
It does have to be said, there are promising internal options, and Chelsea’s recruitment in this area could depend on the development of some of those players, namely the aforementioned Tomori, Sarr, and Mbuyamba, as well as academy standouts Dynel Simeu, Jack Wakely, and Levi Colwill. The questions will be about how quickly and how much these young players develop either out on loan, or within the development teams.
Then there is Ethan Ampadu, who recently departed for Sheffield United on loan for the 20/21 season. Coming off a disappointing loan at RB Leipzig, Ampadu is still very highly regarded at Chelsea and has age on his side. Whether he is viewed as a center back or defensive midfielder is unknown, but his loan at Sheffield United could go a long way in determining the path his career takes from here.
The development of Ampadu, Tomori, Sarr, Mbuyamba and the rest will be vital for Chelsea over the next few seasons. Whether they develop to the point of becoming first teamers, or just to the point of being able to be moved on to raise further funds to acquire first teamers, it will be a storyline worth watching.
For the purpose of this piece, we are going to assume that Chelsea will need to go into the market for 1-2 new center backs. Unfortunately to some, we are at a point in the market where the Virgil van Dijk, readymade, top level, captain material center backs are just not out there. Some would say Koulibaly, (I would argue he is on the decline) but he appears to be heading for Manchester City before this window closes. Milan Škriniar was rumored to be unwanted by Antonio Conte at Inter Milan and thus available, but those rumors have since gone away and Inter have stated publically their desire to keep him. The Aymeric Laporte, Raphaël Varane, and Matthijs de Ligt types are all settled at their respective clubs, and the Sergio Ramos, Pique, Chiellini generation are reaching the end of the road. Finding that elite center back in the market is arguably harder now than it ever has been. Chelsea may have to project a little and take a chance or two on a younger but promising center back and develop them into “the next VVD/Varane/Terry.”
So who are some of those promising options?
Thought by many to be an inevitability, Declan Rice should be a Chelsea player within the next 12 months, likely sooner. While he currently plays as a central midfielder for West Ham, often alongside Mark Noble in a 4-2-3-1, the long standing rumor was that Rice was being pursued by Chelsea and Frank Lampard to return to his original position, center back. That rumor has since dried up a little bit. It may be due to the arrival of Thiago Silva, it may be due to the lack of cover for N’Golo Kante, but at the very least, it seems as though were Rice to arrive this window, it would be primarily as a midfielder, but with the ability to play as a defender if needed. How that plays out in the long term, whether Rice settles as a midfielder, or settles as a defender, or is used as both however Lampard sees fit will need to be determined, because it will impact the direction Chelsea go in the upcoming transfer windows.
Dayot Upamecano has been talked about almost nonstop since the resumption of the Bundesliga season, and not without reason, however, had it not been for a hip injury keeping him sidelined, Ibrahima Konaté would have been right there with his RB Leipzig teammate for in the discussions of best young center back in Europe. In fact, there are no shortage of those who cover the Bundesliga who believe that a fully fit Konaté may even be better than Upamecano. Konaté is a solid 3-4 inches taller and 10 lbs. heavier then his teammate and countryman, just a quick, and equally adept on the right or left of a partnership, or in a 3 man defense. While many of Europe’s elites are fighting over Upamecano next summer, Chelsea may be wise to lock up Konaté as the anchor of their defense for years to come.
Another promising young Bundesliga center back is Eintracth Frankfurt’s Evan N’Dicka. 6’4” with a silky left foot, N’Dicka can play either center back role in a Back 4, left side in a Back 3, or left back, where he has been deployed for Frankfurt on occasion. Already scouted by the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, N’Dicka’s stock will only continue to rise as he gains more and more experience in the German top flight, and he would certainly fill a need for a left footed defender at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s midfield is…cluttered. At present, Chelsea have between 10-14 first team midfielders, depending on how you count them up. Now, that number does include the likes of Drinkwater and Bakayoko who will never play in a blue shirt again, as well as van Ginkel and Lewis Baker who seem to have been around forever without ever actually being around, but no matter how you slice it up, Chelsea have A LOT of midfielders. For the long term future of the club, not only does the sheer number need to be addressed, but also the fit and balance of the group.
I wrote a piece for ATC back in February attempting to make the point that, while Chelsea’s midfield has a lot of quality players, those quality players do not fit together into a cohesive system. Many believe that Frank’s ultimate vision for his Chelsea team is to play as he tried to play post restart, the 4-3-3 with a #6, and 2 attack minded #8’s. Working off of that assumption, what do Chelsea need to do to correct the balance issue?
Step #1 would be to clear some space. The sooner the likes of Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoué Bakayoko are no longer Chelsea players, the better. Bakayoko seems destined for another loan to AC Milan, but so far, no rumors of any suitors for Drinkwater have emerged. Questions also need to be answered about the futures of Lewis Baker, who impressed in his short pre-season cameo against Brighton, but has yet to establish himself as a first teamer at Stamford Bridge, and Marko van Ginkel who, along with Charly Musonda, has been unable to catch any sort of break with injuries over the past few seasons. Ross Barkley and Jorginho are also candidates to move on, although interest in the two has not quite been what the club would have hoped so far, and Barkley for one is in no rush to leave.
Unlike the center back position where a complete overhaul may be coming in the near future, should sufficient space in the squad be created with departures, the midfield unit should only need 1 or 2 additions to get to the level Lampard desires.
This is the big one. The #6 that Frank Lampard needs to play the 4-3-3 the way he wants to play it, is not at Chelsea Football Club. I hear the “but, but…Jorginho” and the “well Kante did it after the restart” people, but Jorginho is on his way out as soon as someone takes him, and N’Golo Kante is not a #6 (see here). Of course it can be done with the current group and of course there are also other options like a 4-2-3-1, which we could see used quite a bit this season, but if Frank’s vision is the 4-3-3 #6 and 2 #8’s that it is believed to be, and he wants it to purr to its full capacity, a new #6 is needed.
I would be remiss to go any further and not acknowledge both Billy Gilmour and Ethan Ampadu. Gilmour was dazzling playing as the #6 against both Liverpool and Everton in the final 2 matches before lockdown. His potential is astronomical, but having just turned 19, and with his slender frame, there are going to be questions about his durability to survive a full Premier League season, and coming off of his knee injury, he will need time to get back to full speed. Ampadu on the other hand, as mentioned earlier when discussing the center backs, has a big season’s loan at Sheffield United ahead of him. How it plays out could go a long way in projecting his future, and whether that future is at center back, or as a #6. But taking Gilmour and Ampadu out of the equation for now, what options do Chelsea have for the #6 role?
Déjà vu? No, he’s on the list again. The debate about whether Rice is a #6 or a CB will go on, but what we do know is he is a high quality player, and should eventually be a Chelsea player. It will be up to Frank and his staff from that point to determine whether they like Rice better as a #6 or as a CB, but he could certainly be an answer at either position.
Zakaria has everything you need in a modern #6, and I have been championing a move to Chelsea for him ever since the first midfield piece came out back in February. Fortunately, my campaign may have worked as reports and rumors emerged that Zakaria was in fact a player that Lampard was keeping an eye on. Unfortunately, it also emerged that he was not alone. With Zakaria’s speed and stature, eye for a pass, and ability to recover a ball without fouling, it is no wonder he has caught the eye many of Europe’s elites. While he looks likely to stay at ‘Gladbach this upcoming season, he could be the subject of a serious bidding war next summer.
Another intriguing option is Olympique Marseille youngster Boubacar Kamara. Like Rice and Zakaria, Kamara has the ability to play both as a #6 and as a center back, however he excelled this season in the midfield for Marseille. At only 20 years old, Kamara has already racked up 61 league appearances. His combination of versatility and potential would be difficult to turn down should other options be unavailable.
This could be very short… Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Hakim Ziyech in a pinch, and heck, even Ross Barkley is still around, we’re good.
In all seriousness though, Chelsea’s “attacking #8’s” position is well stocked, and that is without even mentioning Mateo Kovacic who will likely see time as both a #6 and a #8. Even with the assumed departure due to lack of playing time for Ross Barkley, the options at Frank’s disposal in this area are truly mouthwatering. Apart from the Havertz, Mount, Ruben core, there is one other name to keep an eye out for.
Tino Anjorin may be one of the most hyped names coming through the academy since the player he gets compared to most often, RLC. Anjorin is slightly shorter then Ruben, and a little bit more forward thinking then Ruben, but there are certainly comparisons to be made. Would I love to see the club go out and grab a Houssem Aouar to round out the midfield group, absolutely, but make no mistake, Tino is coming, and should any deficiency arise in the attacking midfield areas, Frank Lampard will know which direction to look in.
I feel like I could almost copy and paste from the attacking midfielders, but between Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, and Kai Havertz the options that Frank Lampard has to deploy in the wide areas are truly something to behold.
As good as that group is on paper however, there is one potential issue that I do have to mention, depth, and here is why. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner are both likely to start in the midfield and up top respectively, so they only feature in this discussion as “options”, although Werner could certainly see a significant amount of time on the left wing. If you take Havertz and Werner out of the equation, you are left with Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi, and Ziyech, 3 wingers for 2 starting spots means someone does not have a back-up. When you also consider the fact that Hudson-Odoi is just now getting back to what he was prior to his Achilles injury, Christian Pulisic battled multiple injury issues last season, and Hakim Ziyech lasted only about an hour in a pre-season friendly before having to come off with a knee injury, the question of whether a 4th winger is needed has to at least be considered.
It does seem highly unlikely that a 4th winger will be brought in at this point in the summer window, especially with the Saïd Benrahma rumors that were flying around in the early parts of the summer having evaporated, but I would not go as far as to think that Chelsea are fully settled at the wing position either. So should a move materialize, either now or within the next 12 months, who are some players worth looking at?
For much of late July and early August, Benrahma was the name on everyone’s lips, he seemed destined for a move to a handful of clubs, Chelsea being the most prominent. However, his performances in helping guide Brentford to the playoff final and potential promotion meant any move was put on hold. Despite Brentford losing the playoff final and Benrahma’s move to a PL club seeming a mere formality, we are now in mid-September with Benrahma still in the Championship. While clubs like West Ham and Crystal Palace have been rumored to be showing interest of late, should Benrahma remain at Bretford past the close of the summer window, a move in January could well be on the cards.
A personal favorite of mine is Valencia’s Portuguese winger Gonçalo Guedes. Still only 23, the versatile attacker already has 127 senior appearances for Benfica, PSG, and Valencia. There were minor reports that he was being looked at by the club just over a year ago, however at the time the price being quoted was in the £70 million range which was slight beyond reasonable, and with the transfer ban in place, it does not appear anything moved beyond an initial glance. The current situation at Valencia, with the club in freefall, essentially selling off stars for pennies on the dollar, may give the Blues a second and much better chance should they decide to take a harder look.
A long time Chelsea target, the Blues backed off the German based Englishman when it became apparent that Dortmund had very little intentions of letting him go, and changing their minds would take an astronomical sum (a lesson that Manchester United are having a difficult time understanding). Should Dortmund be successful in keeping Sancho for another season, it would almost certainly trigger an immense bidding war next summer for the young stars’ signature. After laying out the cash this summer on the likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, Chelsea would be seen as long shots for the childhood Blue’s fan, but never say never, even if the odds are low. I mean, Roman wouldn’t…would he?
Another area that Chelsea appear to be well stocked, not only with numbers, but with styles. With possibly the world’s best target man in Olivier Giroud, one of the world’s most elite finishers in Timo Werner, and one of England’s brightest young talents in Tammy Abraham, Lampard has the puzzle pieces to mix and match the attack however he sees fit. There will need to be a balancing act however as Lampard is expected to primarily use only single striker formations, although will have a bit of wiggle room should he slide Werner out to the left wing and Giroud or Abraham through the middle. That of course assumes that Giroud stays. Despite multiple reports from the usually extremely reliable DiMarzio camp that Giroud may be heading for Juventus or Inter Milan, the Frenchman has repeatedly expressed his willingness to stay in London and compete for time, but until the window is closed, anything is possible.
Even if he stays through this season, it is expected that Grioud’s time at Chelsea is coming to an end and Matt Law recently made the assertion that Chelsea could be in the market for a new striker next summer. I find that quite intriguing, with Werner being just brought in this summer, and Abraham developing, bringing in another striker for a team that will primarily only play single striker formations seems slightly odd, but, following Matt’s statement, who could be on Chelsea’s radar next summer?
The golden boy of European football, Haaland has spent the last year putting up video game numbers for RB Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund. Part of his agreement with Dortmund when he signed in January was a release clause that is rumored to become active this upcoming summer and could trigger an absolute frenzy of moves from the European elite. Where Chelsea could fit into that mix is unknown, and it is important to remember Haaland is represented by Mino Raiola who does not have too many fans at Chelsea, although Petr Cech is rumored to be working to mend some of those bridges (Raiola also represents Donnarumma). It will certainly be worth watching to see if Chelsea get into the Haaland sweepstakes come this time next year.
Highly rated Swedish striker Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad is another young player that could be worth looking into for the Blues. Isak is very tall, around 6’4”/6’5”, very good with both feet, and very adept at linking play as well as scoring goals. He should, at the very least, be worth keeping an eye on this season to follow his progression.
There will of course be others that are worth mentioning, Lautaro Martinez, Luka Jovic, Marcus Thuram, even Mbappe who is rumored to want a move next summer, but as things stand right now, if Matt Law’s statement about Chelsea’s intent to add another striker next summer are correct, who that player could be will be left to the imagination.
I suppose it says a lot that despite Chelsea spending over £200 million this summer on new players, the squad is still not at the level to compete with the Premier League and European elites. On paper, it was a giant step forward, and if that step forward on paper translates onto the pitch, it will be an exciting season for Chelsea fans. Rest assured however, the work is not done, and the squad will continue to evolve into hopefully the English and European superpower it was once again.