Chelsea’s reported shift towards a new era of more modest spending in the transfer market as they look to fund the reconstruction of Stamford Bridge requires a two-pronged approach.
First and foremost, the Blues must start to maximise the potential of their loan army and youth squads by creating a clear path to the first-team, a long-standing failure that has already seen them squander three of the best attacking players in the Premier League – Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah – to three clubs that have finished above them this season.
Secondly though, a much greater level of shrewdness must be applied to their recruitment. Although the club have been relatively frugal in recent years, their net spend since 2014 being less than a quarter of Manchester City’s who they beat to the title last term, big fees for Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta last summer have struggled for justification.
Those two squad players made just 17 Premier League starts combined during their first season at Stamford Bridge, costing Chelsea £3.33million per top flight start so far. Alvaro Morata too, is yet to truly live up to his billing as the Blues’ club-record signing, and Tiemoue Bakayoko has been another expensive disappointment.
With the Premier League campaign drawing to a close, Chelsea are now just a fortnight away from entering a period of the summer when the best possible value for players with English top flight experience will be available to them. Upcoming free agents have been allowed to talk to foreign clubs since January, but will be allowed to discuss terms with rival Premier League ones from June 1st.
From the list of players who fall into that category, Liverpool’s Emre Can is the one who stands out the most. Not only is he amongst the youngest at the age of 24, therefore representing the highest potential resale value, but he’s also the closest to Chelsea’s current level in terms of ability.
In fact, he finished above the Blues this season, won last term’s Goal of the Season and is a regular for the German national team that will enter the World Cup this summer as one of the favourites. Unfortunately, he’ll miss the tournament through injury.
More pertinently, Chelsea need a new balance in midfield. N’Golo Kante is one of the first names on the team sheet but Bakayoko has struggled to prove an adequate partner since arriving from Monaco, while Cesc Fabregas has looked glaringly exposed in a two-man engine room and Drinkwater’s yet to truly establish himself within the squad.
None of the three have managed to replicate or improve upon what Nemanja Matic gave to the midfield, and that has been one of the key differences between last term’s title-clinching Blues compared to the one that ended this season without Champions League football.
Can is a little closer aligned to Matic and should Chelsea stick with their 3-4-3 setup next season, represents a much better counterweight for Kante. The Frenchman’s willingness to burst forward and win the ball back high up the pitch is often overlooked, and for those moments Chelsea need someone powerful, physical and disciplined enough to hold the midfield single-handed. Bakayoko and Fabregas have proved unreliable in that regard, but Can possesses the requisites to be far more effective.
Not that he’s an exclusively defensive player. Chelsea will need Kante’s partner to make a difference offensively as well, and the 24-year-old has shown during his time in the Premier League that he can match robustness with ambitious flair. 2016/17’s Goal of the Season, that incredible bicycle kick against Watford, was testament to that.
But Gary Neville also once described Can as a brave player with an eagerness to do always something positive with the ball, and anyone who has watched the Liverpool man closely will agree with that assessment. Even when his tricks, turns and cute passes don’t quite pay off, Can remains risk-taking and forward thinking – remarkably so for a player who spent his first season at Anfield playing in a back three.
Of course, Chelsea’s formation could easily change next season, should Antonio Conte leave as expected. He’s made the Blues almost synonymous with a back three over the last two years, but Chelsea’s squad still has the basic components for a 4-3-3 and a transition over the summer should be problem free. If anything, Can should help with that change – it’s the system he’s provided his best form in for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp’s guidance, playing either as the anchor or as one of the roaming No.8s.
The big stumbling block for Chelsea though is Juventus’ long-standing interest in the powerful midfielder. Rumours of a move to Turin have been rife throughout the season, and Corriere dello Sport – as reported and translated by Sport Witness – even claim the Serie A winners will reveal Can’s arrival after Liverpool’s Champions League final with Real Madrid on May 27th.
But nothing has been confirmed yet, although it’s clear Chelsea will have to act quickly to beat rivals from home and abroad to the former Bayern Munich youngster’s services. So, would you back a swoop for Can, Blues fans? Let us know by voting below…