Citing “sources close to the German club” the usually reliable ESPN have claimed that Chelsea are keen on Hoffenheim centre-back Niklas Sule, with a January move being considered. It’s understood that Antonio Conte is eager to bolster his defensive ranks during the mid-season transfer window and a central option is high up on his agenda, which has led to the 21-year-old being identified. ESPN mention the likes of Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson, Antonio Rudiger of Roma and Burnley’s English star Michael Keane as options that have been considered, while their claims also refer to previous interest in Sule, which was reported by Bild in September.
Chelsea’s defensive demands are slightly different to the bulk of teams searching for a centre-back. Although it would be naïve to say that Conte’s three-man rearguard is entirely unique, it is an unusual system – especially in the Premier League.
Sule’s Hoffenheim, though, have been using a 3-4-3/3-5-2 this term, which suggests that the youngster would be able to make an almost seamless transition from the Bundesliga club to the Premier League leaders – a huge advantage for the Londoners, who will be desperate to maintain their momentum as they hunt for the title.
There is also the elephant in the room in the form of an ageing John Terry (and to an extent, Branislav Ivanovic), meaning that a young player is needed. Sule won’t turn 22 until next September, so he’s very much at the start of his career. It’s worth noting that Gary Cahill (30) and David Luiz (29) are no spring chickens either, while Kurt Zouma’s nasty knee injury may have long-term repercussions.
Sule’s talent is also supreme, with the 6ft. 5” ace having already represented Germany at senior international level. He also featured for his nation at the Olympic Games over the summer in Rio De Janeiro.
The BuLi club are flying high in Germany’s top tier – they sit sixth, just two points behind third-placed Hertha Berlin – so they will have a genuine desire to keep their squad together with Champions League qualification a possibility at this early stage of the campaign. However, Die Kraichgauer are a selling club, with the likes of Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland having been offloaded over the last two summers, and are generally open to doing business at the right price.