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If the season started tomorrow Chelsea would struggle to fill a match day squad so it is no surprise that the reigning champions have added to their side with the capture of Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco.
Chelsea had been tracking the French midfielder during the last campaign with Conte personally attending a number of Monaco’s Champions League fixtures.
Signing this week for £35 million in a deal that could rise to just under £40 million Conte clearly liked what he saw.
Questioning the wisdom of a man who won the Premier League in his debut season would be brave, but let’s take a look at whether Chelsea’s latest signing is destined for success at the Bridge.
Bakayoko is a tall, strong and athletic midfielder who, over the past 12 months, has established himself as one of Europe’s best defensive midfielders.
Stripping opponents of the ball and pressuring them into mistakes, Bakayoko was the primary defensive arbiter for Monaco on their route to the French league title last season.
In a team generally playing all out attack Bakayoko displayed the discipline and tactical awareness that no doubt impressed Conte and convinced him that Bakayoko is the man to take Chelsea’s midfield to the next level.
But the Parisian born midfielder offers much more than the promise to simply stop opponents. Last season Bakayoko completed 57 take ons, more than any other Chelsea midfielder. With Matic seemingly heading for the exit door or an extended spell on the bench Conte is clearly looking for more dynamism in his midfield. Bakayoko will offer that dynamism.
Moreover, not only will he complement the exceptional defensive work of N’Golo Kante, he will offer a physical presence the Frenchman cannot whilst also adding an athleticism to Chelsea’s midfield that Matic and Fabregas are unable to provide. Chelsea fans have reason to be excited.
Room for improvement
Bakayoko’s biggest area for improvement is his goal scoring.
Of Ivorian descent, having played for Monaco and with an athletic, dynamic style of play comparisons have naturally been made with Yaya Toure. Bakayoko himself has named Toure as the player he most looks to emulate.
But while Toure has been one of the Premier Leagues highest scoring midfielders over the past decade, Bakayoko only managed 3 goals in 51 games last year. However, being fair to Chelsea’s new man he was lumped with the main defensive responsibility in Monaco’s attack heavy team.
Even fellow defensive midfielder Fabinho would regularly press forward, grabbing himself 10 goals through the season.
The good news is that at Chelsea, Bakayoko will be in a more balanced team and with Kante to cover him, he will also have more opportunities to push forward. Therefore there is every possibility that his goal scoring will improve.
Emulating the output of Toure is a very tall order and Bakayoko will likely continue to hold more of a defensive responsibility than his Ivorian role model, but if he is able to add goals to his game Bakayoko can become almost the perfect box to box midfielder.
On a side note, it almost doesn’t bare thinking about how good France’s midfield is going to be.
Something that might give Chelsea fans cause for concern is Bakayoko’s attitude, which has hampered his progress during his fledgling career. As a youngster Bakayoko was rejected from France’s Clairefontaine Academy because it was felt he was a bit too much of a bad boy.
Let’s face it, for a French player that is a tall order.
Nonetheless, Bakayoko’s natural ability shone through earning him a move to Rennes and then to Monaco in 2014, but issues surrounding his attitude again threatened to upset his progress.
After arriving at Monaco, manager Leonardo Jardim made the surprising decision to start Bakayoko ahead of club captain Jeremy Toulalan. He changed his mind after 32 minutes and Bakayoko wasn’t seen again for 2 months becoming more well known for his Pink Porsche than his performances.
Things continued to unravel as Jardim accused Bakayoko of lacking professionalism and the relationship between the two broke down.
After Geoffrey Kondogbia left Monaco for Inter Milan in 2015, it was current Chelsea player Mario Pasalic who was preferred as his replacement over Bakayoko.
The fact that you have no idea who that is, shows just how much a.) Bakayoko was wasting his talent and b.) he has turned things around.
Turning things around
Credit for that turn around must go in large part to Claude Makelele.
Chelsea’s famed former defensive midfielder worked with Monaco for a short period during 2016 and had a special influence over Conte’s newest recruit. Makelele encouraged Bakayoko to adopt a more serious approach to his work.
Bakayoko responded well, he swapped his Pink Porsche for a black one and moved from a flashy villa to a city apartment, he also improved his diet and took up boxing adding muscle to his previously slender frame.
Criticism continues to be levelled at Bakayoko at times for lapses in concentration, with former coach Yannick Menu claiming that because he is a peaceful person rather than a rager, he sometimes needs to be jolted.
While concerns about his attitude may linger, the extent to which he has already demonstrated a maturity and commitment to realising his potential should limit worries Chelsea fans have.
At 22 Bakayoko will make mistakes, but if he is a player who needs jolting, is there a better manager than Conte to do it?
In Tiemoue Bakayoko, Chelsea have secured themselves a talented, young midfielder who offers an immediate upgrade to Nemanja Matic and only promises to get better.
He will complement N’Golo Kante while offering greater physicality than his compatriot thus making Chelsea’s midfield a scary prospect for any team.
Bakayoko may not have made the most of his potential during his early career, but by the grace of God, or rather Claude Makelele, he appears to have matured.
So long as he maintains his new found professionalism and as long as Conte is able to ‘jolt’ without alienating, Bakayoko is destined to have a long and successful career in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield and that is ominous for Chelsea’s challengers.
Written by Scott Pope
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