Antonio Conte took the Premier League by storm last season with his excellent 3-5-2 formation. He managed to get key player Eden Hazard playing back to his very best and the Blues reaped the rewards. They were of course assisted by their non-participation in European football, enabling them to field a settled and rested team, but there is no denying that Conte made a fantastic impact in his first season at Stamford Bridge. His arrival injected a fresh impetus to a squad which was looking distinctly non-interested under Jose Mourinho, and his hard work culminated in their League title success… Conte’s fourth consecutive domestic title.
The Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Far from building on that success however, this season has not begun well for the Champions. Having first lost out to Arsenal in the Charity Shield, they started their defence of the title with a home defeat to Burnley which saw them lose 2 players to red cards. The Blues bounced back at the weekend with a late win over rivals Tottenham Hotspur which will give them confidence ahead of hosting Everton this weekend in what will be a tough game given the start to the season from Ronald Koeman’s side.
A tough start on the field has been accompanied by plenty of drama off it, with Chelsea’s top scorer last season Diego Costa clashing very publicly with Conte. The Spanish international was told in May that he is not wanted at the club, but is seemingly refusing to move anywhere but to Atletico Madrid, who are themselves banned from signing players until January. The standoff has been very messy and very public, and with only days to go before the transfer window closes there is no resolution in sight.
In addition there has been plenty of negative talk from Conte regarding the transfer business this summer from Chelsea. He claimed Nemanja Matic was sold against his request and the Serbian has since hit the ground running for Man United. He’s also stated the squad isn’t big enough to compete on all fronts, a claim which seems slightly bizarre as he has spent over £100m on 3 players and loaned out 26 more already this season. It is unusual to hear a manager so openly critical of those in control of transfers, which understandably has led people to question if all is well at a club which has seen more than its fair share of drama in the past decade.
This Summer’s Arrivals and Departures
From last years 38 loan deals, two players have returned and are in the first team squad. Andreas Christensen has already played in both Premier League games after two brilliant seasons in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach. The 21 year old will be a huge player for the Champions if he gets consistent game time. Also returning is Jeremie Boga who had a good loan sell at Granada in La Liga last season. The 20 year old started the defeat to Burnley but was taken off before the 20th minute after Gary Cahill was sent off.
Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko have all come in for big money and will be relied upon to contribute immediately, but with Conte clearly unhappy, who can we expect to see holding a Chelsea scarf aloft in Stamford Bridge before the end of the month?
The club have made a surprise inquiry for Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater, and if any deal is done it would be over the £30m mark. This possible signing is a strange one in many respects, and certainly shows no faith in loan players like Ruben Loftus Cheek, Mario Pasalic, Lewis Baker or Marco Van Ginkel who all play in a similar position.
It is up front which Chelsea really need to strengthen. Having spent nearly £60m on Alvaro Morata, Tammy Abraham and Izzy Brown were promptly loaned out, despite just Michy Batshuayi and Loic Remy being currently available for selection in the squad. The latter is expected to be sold and if Costa also ends up leaving/on a beach, Conte will be left with just 2 strikers. It is imperative that he strengthens that area of the field, if he is to hope to compete against the Manchester clubs and retain his title.
So Who Should Chelsea Sign?
With the embarrassment of riches at the disposal of Chelsea, they are constantly linked with players for every position and twice over. The centre forward role in the Conte system is a pivotal one which makes the decision to remove Costa and let Abraham, Brown and the highly rated Dominic Solanke leave, a strange one. There are 2 names that the Italian is a key admirer of, Fernando Llorente and Andrea Belotti.
Fernando Llorente, Swansea City Image via Premier4us.es
The Spaniard Llorente, who is currently recovering from a broken arm, remains a key player for Swansea City but he was influential for Conte in his last season at Juventus. He helped Juve claim a third straight Serie A title scoring 16 times and providing 5 assists. His strength, hold up play and aerial prowess was outstanding as the Italian giants eased to the title. At his age, and with his experience, he could be an ideal foil for Chelsea to complement Morata and Batshuayi.
Andrea Belotti, Torino Image via vivicentro.it
Andrea Belotti is a player who knows were the goal is and is coming into this season on the back of his best individual year. The Italian is 2 footed, quick and has a great eye for finding the net. He moved to Torino in 2015 from Palermo for just €7.5m and should he leave, Chelsea will be first in line. The 23 year old scored 26 league goals and provided 7 assists as II Toro finished 9th. It is perhaps difficult to see a player of his age and with his profile moving to Chelsea when they have just signed Alvaro Morata but stranger things have happened.
Chelsea will compete on most fronts this season but Conte must get this transfer market right if they are to lift any silverware. Fernando Llorente could be an ideal match for the Pensioners.