As important as the decisions outlined in Part 1 of this feature are, I think it’s pretty clear that our ultimate shortcomings last season weren’t because of the defence, or at least not in any significant part. Already, the midfield is where the huge majority of our outstanding talent currently exists, it also however, I think the area which needs the most amount of thought this summer, in terms of recruitment. A great centre forward is the most obviously necessary addition, but an excellent central midfield player I think would be the difference between going into next season with a great squad, and one truly capable of standing up and matching any other side in Europe.
Regardless of whatever else happens, it’s clear that Nemanja Matic will be running the Chelsea midfield for the next few years. The Serb has been an inspired purchase and is one of the very few squad members guaranteed to be in the XI next season. The issue of whom to partner him with is a difficult one. At no point last season did it look as though Ramires could be the answer, long term. The few games the Brazilian started in midfield alongside Matic, ultimately turned out to be the ones which cost us the league (i.e. draw at the Hawthorns, loss at Villa Park, loss at Selhurst, loss at home to Sunderland etc).
I think Ramires has come in for slightly undue criticism however, in spite of a horrible 2014 so far. He’s played a huge role in the transition of this Chelsea side over the past few seasons and there are many players who’ve improved and benefitted at Chelsea from his endless running and tactical skill. The arrival of Matic however has lessened our reliance on Ramires to provide these attributes immensely, leaving his value to the club diminished and his long term future in doubt. I still think he has an important (albeit reduced) role to play in the side for another year at least.
Mikel John Obi on the other hand as been entirely usurped by Matic and most likely will be sold. Frank Lampard may or may not sign a contract extension at this stage and either way, at 36 has little offer on the pitch. Marco Van Ginkel will hopefully get more opportunities this coming season but remains unpolished and inexperienced – a purchase in this area is clearly necessary.
Compared to the left back position however, this is a much more difficult position to come up with a list of feasible names. One option would be Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho – the outstanding young talent in Portugal this year blends toughness and technique in a similar vein to Matic and shares an agent with Mourinho. Paulinho is another player I like but has had a disappointing first season in England and probably isn’t worth what Spurs would demand. Ivan Rakitic, the Croatian captain of Sevilla would be great signing in my opinion, being both excellent defensively in a box-to-box role and a fine long passer of the ball/set-piece taker – something we definitely missed after the January sales of Mata and De Bruyne.
My advice at this stage regarding rumours about the likes of Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Toni Kroos is to ignore them all. I can’t believe for a second that Bayern will be stupid enough not to give Kroos the raise and extension he’s asking for; and whilst Pogba and Vidal may be for sale, I can’t see us forking out the £60/70m Juventus would surely ask for. Perhaps the biggest name we could have a chance of signing at this stage would be Sami Khedira – the German whose place in the Madrid XI has been severly threatened by the brilliance of Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso this season in Real’s CL winning midfield three. The signing of Isco and rumoured interest in the likes of Pogba by Florentino Perez may suggest the club would be open to offers.
With the sale of Luiz, Mata, De Bruyne; the expected sale of some other stars and some notably increased TV revenues, the club can afford to spend a lot money this summer and comfortably comply with UEFA’s FFP rules, meaning ultimately, even the most unlikely of names could potentially be afforded. Currently however, I have no idea who we’re most desperately looking to sign. I am quite sure though that the resigning of Tiago on a free contract, were that to happen, wouldn’t constitute the extent of our business on midfield recruitment this window.
I don’t want to write much about the attacking midfield positions because I think it’s pretty obvious that nothing needs to be done. Stories about Oscar and Eden Hazard being sold are boringly tedious and with Willian, Mohamed Salah and Andre Schurrle all having been signed by Jose Mourinho and all of them being liable to improve considerably next year – I think we’re fine. Rumours about Roberto Firmino and Ezequiel Lavezzi (in particular) may persist; I strongly doubt at this stage that either will be targeted.
After an entire season of shouldering pretty much all the blame for the team’s deficiencies, it isn’t surprising to find all three current centre forwards strongly rumoured with moves away from the club. Samuel Eto’o won’t be renewing his contract, Demba Ba is courting interest from both Turkish and English PL sides and though Fernando Torres may end up staying if a high enough wage offer is not forthcoming from Inter, the club still plainly needs to bring in two centre forwards.
One of which should be Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has now scored more goals on loan than anyone in the history of the Premier League, leading Everton and West Brom to their highest ever points totals in the process. Mourinho’s alleged dislike of the player remains as confusing as it ever did. Lukaku’s consistent improvement and goal return for club and country has surely warranted a return to the club next season. His sale, even for as much as £30m would be a bizarre move.
Finally, the transfer everyone has been anticipating for months – the £32m purchase of Diego Costa. After having been confirmed several times since the beginning of the year, this is a deal that still remains less clear than most fans would like, with a recent report in Spain claiming the player is now looking to break a contract he signed with Chelsea in order to sign a better deal with Atletico.
I still expect the deal to happen and I expect him to be a big success in England. The Spaniard must be the perfect forward for Chelsea – fast, aggressive, superb on the counter attack and prone to scoring important goals in big games – it should sayit all how anxious the Spanish national team are for him to be fit in time for the World Cup, despite having the world’s strongest pool of midfield talent to support several other fine centre forward options.
Paradoxically, in spite of the several in-comings and out-goings likely to happen this summer, every decision made by the club in this period is really about fine-tuning the side – under no circumstances can it reasonable from the start of next season to describe Chelsea as side in transition to any possible degree. On paper, the release/sale of half a dozen first team players and the recalling/purchase of another five or six, sounds like an extensive reshaping of the team. When in fact, what it should represent, if done correctly, is the completion of the team, into a group of players perfectly assembled for the coach to make champions of next May.
Watch this space for opinions and updates on significant transfer stories as they happen and for pieces throughout the World Cup