Tiemoue Bakayoko is one of a host of AS Monaco players destined to be splashed across many a gossip column this summer. Although his game is not laced with the flair of many of his more desirable team-mates, Bakayoko fills a role that is a current weakness across world football.
For a defensive-minded box-to-box midfielder, Bakayoko has it all. A rangy stride enables him to cover ground at a deceptively nifty pace, while his height makes him a threat aerially. He is a similar mould of midfielder to Nemanja Matic in some aspects, which might be why Chelsea are looking to the Frenchman as an upgrade on the Serbian.
In Chelsea’s current favoured 3-4-2-1 system, Antonio Conte is certain to name N’Golo Kante and one other in the heart of the pitch. Matic and Cesc Fabregas have taken turns as his partner, but Bakayoko would bring better passing than Matic, tenacity like Kante, and an athleticism that Fabregas lacks. He is the midfielder to do it all for Chelsea, whether asked to play in a deeper role or given the license to join the attack.
On the odd occasion that Kante is rested next season (when Chelsea will have the extra strain of European football) Bakayoko could equally play the ball-winning, presser role. His partnership with Fabinho at Monaco has been formidable in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. As Leonardo Jardim’s side continue their crusade towards a well-deserved title, Bakayoko has been lynchpin in the middle third.
For a side always on the front foot and often with the majority of possession, Bakayoko has been an insurance policy when one of their own enterprising, fast-moving attacks is broken down. Registering at 2.2 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game, his savvy positioning so often sees him in the right spot at the right time as the opposition look to spring a break.
Although he cannot compete with the majestic passing of Fabregas, he is a reliable retainer of the ball. In both the Champions League and Ligue 1 he is registering a pass completion rate of nearly 88%. While Chelsea need a player who can break down low blocks with their incisive passing from deep, Bakayoko can, at the very least, spread the play and do it with sufficient speed to create pockets for Eden Hazard, Pedro or Willian to turn and dribble.
Another upside to the Frenchman’s game has been his discipline. Not only in his positional sense, either. Having made 26 Ligue 1 appearances this season, he has received only the two yellow cards, an impressive feat for a player in his tackle-responsible role.
Unless Ruben Loftus-Cheek – who has primarily been viewed as an attacking player – or Nathaniel Chalobah are going to step up to something more than League Cup starters under Conte, another central midfield option is a necessity as the Blues look to compete on four fronts next season. In a position that is relatively weak at the moment, Bakayoko is a standout candidate for the role in this Chelsea setup. The price will make many cringe, but that is the nature of the midfield market, particularly when alternatives like Idrissa Gueye would be even more costly.