Connor's Corner: How can Chelsea improve this summer?
By Connor Harmer
With the 2016-2017 football season now over and the Summer transfer window well under way, I’m going to look at where I think each of top 6 teams in the Premier League can improve ahead of the 2017-2018 season.
With relatively little transfer activity so far from the top 6 teams and with pre-season quickly approaching, will the top summer transfer targets price inflate too much and force the big teams to panic buy?
I’m going to start by looking at the champions Chelsea. Before their fantastic league surge last season, very few gave them a chance of winning the premier league title. They acquired the fantastic services of the vibrant and exuberant Antonio Conte and their biggest transfer dealing of this summer could already have been done in keeping him from returning to his native Italy. With worries of if Conte’s brilliance with Juventus was a case of ‘big fish in a small pond’ he surprised us both with the team and performances created as well as maybe some of his signings. The signings of both Marcos Alonso and maybe more the £33m fee for Michy Batshuayi had eyebrows raised and many Chelsea fans would have been very worried had the outstanding Ngolo Kante not been brought in to improve a team that finished a very disappointing 8th the season before. It looks however, that Chelsea and Conte are addressing the same areas as last year and I think I’m going to have to agree.
The Premier League and Chelsea fans knew what they were getting with Kante, a bundle of energy who is every midfielders nightmare. Snapping at heels, interception after interception and never giving players a minute’s rest. Kante’s partnership with Nemanja Matic was the core of Chelsea’s famous 3-5-2 formation played last year, however Kante looks set to lose his towering partner this year with Jose Mourinho set to be reunited with Matic at Manchester United. Now the main target if the media are to believed looks almost certain to be Monaco midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko. A carbon copy of Matic in terms of framework; big, strong, powerful and a serious athlete. Kante’s French compatriot Bakayoko is valued by Monaco at around 40million and for someone who put in 2 fantastic performances against English side Manchester City (scoring in the second leg) as well as making 51 appearances for an outstanding Monaco team who won League 1 and got to the Champions League Semi Finals, I can see the 22 year old being a great signing providing he settles. The physicality of him as well as the technical ability should be a great signing to partner Kante and battle with the almost forgotten Cesc Fabregas, as well as youngsters Nathaniel Chalobah and Reuben Loftus-Cheek in centre midfield for the starting spot. However, Bakayoko would almost be guaranteed to start due to the like for likeness to himself and Matic as well as the fact Conte doesn’t seem to favour Fabregas too much.
The Marcos Alonso transfer surprised many football fans, the former Bolton loanee signing was almost laughed at by former captain and teammate Kevin Davies who tweeted to along the lines of that ‘he hoped he’d improved a hell of a lot since being at Bolton’. The Alonso signing however again proved us all to be naïve of Conte’s brilliance, the wingbacks position was untouched throughout the season as his seasonal tally finished on 6 goals and 3 assists, which is quite some record. Again however, if the media are to be believed, Juventus full back Alex Sandro is due to join in the coming days for a reported fee of upwards of £50 million. Now I would be very surprised if Alonso is to be replaced after his performances last season, but for a player coming in for a fee of that amount it’s hard to see him coming in as back up and with Conte sticking to the 3-5-2 formation, it’s hard to see where both fit in. I feel Chelsea would be better going for someone who can come in as a replacement as needed and play the majority of the cup games. Hull full-back Andrew Robertson, West Hams Aaron Cresswell and Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels may not be players that catch Chelsea fans eyes as that big summer name, but all 3 have been fantastic and consistent performers for their respective clubs, have several Premier League experience as well as all 3 falling under the ‘homegrown talent’ rule. Daniels is a surprise one and many may laugh, but his impressive record for Bournemouth of 5 assists and 3 goals from left back is similar to Alonso, but these stats for a mid-table club show how fantastic he has been. Defensively he may not be anywhere near the standard required for Chelsea or a team fighting for the league, but as I mentioned, I would be surprised if anyone was to replace Alonso and think he could do a real job for Chelsea in the cup competitions (excluding Champions League) where they are likely to dominate games and possession. Due to his age (30) the price wouldn’t be anywhere near some of the silly figures floating about.
Chelsea’s final big singing of last summer was Michy Batshuayi. A player I actually really liked and was annoyed to see at times Conte play Hazard or Pedro up front when Costa was injured/suspended and leave Michy on the bench. Costa looks set to leave Chelsea this summer and will the heroics of Michy be enough to earn him a starting berth as the main striker? I highly doubt it. Lukaku seems the one likely to place Costa and with the 24 year old scoring 26 league goals last season you can see why. I’m not sure however that Lukaku has the technical ability to lead Chelsea to the very top. I personally think Chelsea would be better going for someone like Aubameyang, who has champions league experience and would cost a similar price. The deadly finisher looks set to leave Dortmund after all these years and Chelsea know they would be getting one of the deadliest marksmen in world football with Aubameyang scoring 31 of Dortmund’s 72 goals in the Bundesliga last season.
I think these three positions will again dominate Chelsea’s summer, but there are other areas they could improve. With John Terry and Nathan Ake leaving, they are short at centre half. I think Napoli centre half Kalidou Koulibaly or Roma pair Kostas Minolas and Anthony Rudiger are options for Conte especially with his Italian knowledge. Italian international and a cheaper option who performed well at Hull for his loan spell was Ronnochia, who I think would do well and could be a cheaper option and act as good coverage for Cahill, Azpilicueta, Zouma and Luiz. Adama Traore of Middlesbrough is someone continuously linked with Chelsea and the former Barcelona man could be great cover for Victor Moses. Traore is probably the rawest player I’ve ever seen, scary pace and feet and is a world beater on his day. With Conte’s coaching, a bit of belief and as long as he stays injury free he really could become a superstar.
As long as Chelsea get their transfers sorted early, I think it could be a good summer and season ahead. They have some great youngsters in their set up and with a few of these players potentially to replace the ones leaving they will no doubt be up there again. I don't think they have enough for any Champions League challenge, especially with the rigorous fixture list of the English season, but I'm sure retaining the league will be their main aim.