Having conceded nine Premier League goals already this season – an average of 1.3-per-game being a far cry from the standards Antonio Conte set at Juventus – the transfer rumour columns have been awash with reports of Chelsea targeting defensive reinforcements in recent weeks. England call-up Michael Keane, Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson and AC Milan’s Mattia De Sciglio are just a few examples.
Lazio’s Stefan de Vrij has been a recurring name, though. He was linked with Chelsea during the summer and has been mentioned as a potential January target by a number of sources since the transfer window slammed shut, including the ever-unreliable CalcioMercatoWeb.
Il Messaggero reiterate those claims, alleging Conte will ‘try again’ in his pursuit of the Netherlands international, but add further that Lazio are hoping to fend off the Blues’ interest by tying him down to a new contract.
The Dutchman’s current terms expire in 2018, which would make next summer the ideal time for Chelsea to pressure Lazio into selling as the fear of losing their best defender for free becomes all the more realistic. So on the surface, as you’d expect, a new deal would be bad news for Chelsea – especially with Il Messaggero suggesting his contract could be extended until 2020.
But according to the Italian publication, there’s also talk of a £30.8million release clause being inserted into the new deal. That’s hardly an overwhelming sum in the context of the modern transfer market; in fact, it’s virtually the same fee Chelsea paid PSG to re-sign David Luiz on Deadline Day and would equate to just a quarter of the club’s overall spend during Conte’s first transfer window. Not bad for a highly-rated 24-year-old defender in an era in which world-class centre-backs have become incredibly rare.
De Vrij may not be a world-beater but he’s well established in Serie A and within the Netherlands fold, excelling during his first season at the Stadio Olimpico (he missed the majority of 2015/16 through injury) and representing Oranje on 30 occasions.
He can also play full-back in extremis and was part of Louis van Gaal’s lauded three-man defence which played a key role in the Netherlands reaching the third-place playoff at the 2014 World Cup. As Chelsea fans will be well aware, Conte utilised a three-man defensive system against Hull City last weekend and it appears to be his preferred formation going forward.
Here’s a look at De Vrij’s form compared to Chelsea’s current centre-back options, courtesy of Squawka: