Connect in the back of the net

In the summer of 2014 Chelsea had one of the best transfer windows of all time.

Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas arrived from Spain and gave Chelsea the world class quality they needed to make the jump from 3rd in the League, to 1st.

Deals were done early in the window enabling Mourinho’s side to hit the ground running and the new boys were able to bed in seamlessly. Diego Costa scored 19 goals and Fabregas delivered 18 assists.

Furthermore, Chelsea’s much maligned youth policy finally came good, with Thibaut Courtois returning from a loan spell to successfully succeed Petr Cech. Perhaps most impressively, Chelsea’s summer was run at a profit, with David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku leaving for £45m and £31m respectively. 

That season Chelsea won the transfer window and as a result won the league. Yet by contrast, this summer’s window looks like an unmitigated disaster.

Questionable decisions, high profile snubs, very public disharmony and a feather light squad have all left us wondering just how Chelsea, England’s reigning champions, have managed to snatch defeat from the claws of victory.

But has their window really been as bad as it’s been made out? Let’s take a look.

 

Strange Decisions

At the end of July, having signed Tiemoue Bakayoko, Chelsea allowed Nemanja Matic to join to Manchester United for £40m.

On the face of it the decision seemed logical enough. By signing a central midfielder Chelsea were in a position to let one go and by selling the 29 year old, Chelsea effectively wrote off the roughly £40m spent on one of Europe’s most promising young talents.

However, by the end of the first week of the new season Chelsea’s decision began to look a little questionable. Losing 3-2 to Burnley on the opening day Chelsea looked light in many areas, but with Bakayoko injured and Fabregas sent off, Matic was sorely missed in midfield.

To make matters worse, in the short time Matic has been at Manchester United he has looked like the key to unlocking the attacking potential of Paul Pogba and Manchester United in general, with the Red Devils recording two 4-0 wins in just 3 games.

Although Matic’s desire to leave somewhat twisted Chelsea’s hand, question marks remain over why the club allowed him to join a direct rival, which so far looks like it may have a key impact in swinging the balance of power between the Blues and the Reds.

 

Public Discord

Further question marks about Chelsea’s summer relate to the club’s treatment of Diego Costa.

Even during last season it was clear that the disruptive Brazilian wanted to leave the Blues. However, the way in which Chelsea have handled the situation has arguably made things worse, also weakening their bargaining position with potential buyers.

Early in the summer news broke that Diego Costa had received a text from manager Antonio Conte informing the striker that he was not in his manager’s plans for the coming season.

Since then Diego Costa has gone AWOL in Brazil and has failed to return for pre-season training. Costa was even videoed partying in Brazil wearing an Atletico Madrid shirt, the club he very clearly wants to join.

Although blame lies with Costa for his lack of professionalism and general maturity, knowing the kind of man Costa is, was it really wise for Conte to send that text?

The result has been to alienate Costa while giving him the opportunity to paint himself as someone being pushed out of the club, all of which only serves to weaken Chelsea’s position when trying to offload him.

There is interest in Costa from Atletico Madrid, but with a transfer ban until January they are in no rush to match Chelsea’s £50m valuation.

Should the public spat between Costa, Conte and club continue, Chelsea may find it harder and harder to recoup the money they want for their wantaway striker and having failed to offload him this summer, his disruptive influence is set to linger for a few months yet.

 

High Profile Snubs

Surprisingly for a club of Chelsea’s stature and financial clout, the club has struggled to attract a number of players this summer.

It all began with Romelu Lukaku who was widely expected to rejoin Chelsea before Manchester United swooped and secured the Belgian’s signature from under the Chelsea’s noses.

Interestingly, Lukaku ended up in Manchester not because he favoured United, but because Chelsea were unwilling to match the agent fees United were prepared to pay. It was an embarrassing start to the window, but by all accounts, things only got worse.

Next in the saga came Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The day before the end of the window Chelsea had a £35m bid accepted for the Ox, only for the Englishman to snub Chelsea in favour of Liverpool because of his desire to play in central midfield, rather than the wing back role he would have played under Conte.

Such was the Ox’s conviction that he turned down £220k per week at Chelsea, accepting £120k per week at Liverpool.

And as if that wasn’t enough Chelsea’s deadline day attempts to sign Fernando Llorente and Ross Barkley also ended in disaster. Llorente joined arch rivals Tottenham, while Barkley’s transfer ended in bizarre fashion when he reportedly backed out of a £35m deal during his medical.

Apparently, Barkley wanted to hold off on a deal, giving himself time to assess his options in January. Having very publicly embarrassed Chelsea it is hard to imagine the Blues being one of those options when January comes around.

 

Squad Depth

Magnifying the failure to secure signatures with the questionable decision to let Matic leave, is the way in which Chelsea have let go of a host of promising youth players, leaving their squad featherlight.

Last season Chelsea made excellent use of a small squad, which bred continuity and fluidity.

In Hazard, Pedro and Willian, Chelsea only had 3 attacking players to fill the two spots behind the central striker and the same was true in midfield with Matic, Kante and Fabregas filling the 2 central midfield births. It worked to great effect, but with the Champions League to contend with this season, Chelsea’s decision to trim their squad even more is cause for concern.

In midfield, Chelsea have loaned or sold Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lewis Baker, while in defense the same is true of Nathan Ake and Kurt Zouma. Up front Chelsea loaned out Tammy Abraham before attempting and failing to sign Llorente as a back up striker, thus leaving them light up front.

While it is disappointing to see young players shipped off, many of whom are English, the real concern will be if injuries strike at Chelsea’s first team.

The players that have been let go were by no means starters, but would have served as adequate back ups. The decision has left a very big question mark as to whether Chelsea have a squad capable of challenging domestically and in Europe.

 

Quality Arrivals

Nonetheless, in spite of the general air of calamity surrounding Chelsea’s transfer window the club has succeeded in bringing in a number of top quality players.

Up front Alvaro Morata already has 2 goals and 2 assists, while Bakayoko, despite being rough around the edges, looks like he has the physicality to dominate many a Premier League midfield.

In one of the latest deals of the window Chelsea secured the signing of Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater for £35m. Bringing in a fourth first team midfielder was a necessity for Chelsea and Drinkwater’s history with N’Golo Kante should stand Chelsea in good stead for next season.

Elsewhere Chelsea have strengthened at the back bringing in Antonio Rudiger from Roma and Davide Zappacosta from Torino. However, so far Rudiger has had difficulty finding his feat and without a great deal of cover at the back Chelsea will need him to do so quickly.

It is also worth pointing out that there is a rumour going around that Zappacosta, when translated from Italian, means panic buy. It is as yet, unconfirmed.

 

So what’s the verdict?

Chelsea have had a difficult transfer window from start to finish, leaving Antonio Conte frustrated.

However, having won the league in record fashion last year, and with a number of quality additions joining through the summer, it is clear that Chelsea have a squad of players capable of beating anybody, as was proven by Chelsea’s hit and run against Tottenham a fortnight ago.

The risk Chelsea have taken is in allowing squad size to dwindle, a strategy which has been magnified by the club’s repeated inability to get deals over the line.

Aside from the embarrassment of seeing rival clubs snatch players away, or players opting to sit on the bench for half a season rather than join, the failure of Chelsea to adequately stock their squad with real quality means that should they suffer injuries, the wheels could fall off their season very quickly.

Chelsea fans will be hoping that doesn’t happen, everyone else will be hoping it does.

 

Written by Scott Pope

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