Tottenham’s unexpected draw this Monday against West Brom, now means that if Leicester City win at Old Trafford this weekend, the Premier League title will, quite remarkably, be theirs. And though nobody could feel anything other than delighted amazement at their triumph, it’s hard not to hope that their wait will be drawn out a little longer, so that the final nail in the coffin of Spurs (the only remaining challengers) can be driven home by Chelsea a couple of days later.
I don’t generally like the culture of modern football where the failings or embarrassment of rival teams are as readily anticipated or enjoyed, as the successes of your own team; a derby victory, against a side who has significantly surpassed us this season, and which would have decisive consequences on the league title race, would however, help to alleviate just some of the bitterness left by this most miserable of campaigns. And would also be a comforting reminder we can still compete with and defeat the best sides in the division.
Otherwise, with all meaning gone from the season the overwhelming majority of coverage in the media is looking ahead to next season, with suggestions and predictions as to how Conte will orchestrate a return to the top. Already an absurd number of transfer targets have been speculated, even more than usual, with a number of crucial additions set to be made in the coming months.
These days, with so much information from so many different sources online, it can be extremely difficult to unpack which of the dozens of circling rumours have any substance to them. The profit to be made in pandering to an audience desperate for constant updates on non-existent stories, has created a culture where the most tenuous of links is exaggerated to the point of becoming a leading headline. The result is that it leaves the vast majority of what we read online seeming intrinsically unreliable.
This blog is a look at a few of the most repeatedly linked names so far – all of whom have been declared ‘top of Conte’s wish list’ or some other such bollocks at one time or another, over the past few weeks. It’s also a look at the likelihood and consequence of their arrival, with a methodically calculated score out of 10 in each case…
Leonardo Bonucci – The Italian, who in my opinion, is one of the three best centre halves in the world (along with Jerome Boateng and Diego Godin), is the player who many are reporting to be the man who can replace John Terry in the long run. His quality, his age, his versatility (being excellent in a back three as well as in a traditional partnership) make him probably the ideal candidate. However, after Paul Pogba and Paulo Dybala, he is probably Juve’s most valued player, and with their other centre half options either approaching the end of their career (Barzagli), still developing at the top level (Rugani) or struggling with injury (Chiellini) it’s hard to see him being sold.
Good fit for Chelsea? – 10/10 Likelihood of signing? – 2/10
Marquinhos – The young Brazilian is a name that crops up in every transfer window but this time suggestions are being made more assertively that he wants to leave Paris St-Germain, being stuck firmly behind Thiago Silva and David Luiz in the pecking order. He’s a player whose quality is difficult to measure, with limited game time in a league where he doesn’t have to do much defending, his reputation remains largely based on his outstanding debut season as a teenager in the Serie A. Still only 21, a defender of his talent would be a huge coup; for now, Chelsea remain only one of a number clubs touted as potential suitors.
Good fit for Chelsea? – 7/10 Likelihood of signing? – 3/10
John Stones – The tenacity with which we pursued Stones last summer, always meant a likely revival of the rumour come the end of the season. It’s interesting to ponder how the story has developed. After a year where his performances have played their part in a campaign marred by defensive errors and leads thrown away, you would have thought his value must have diminished. Everton may think it could just as easily rise again however, if, as looks likely, a new manager, more gifted in organising a defence than Roberto Martinez will arrive next season to work with and improve the young Englishman. If Chelsea go as desperately for him again this summer then I think they may have more luck, though it will still require a ludicrously high offer.
Good for Chelsea? – 7/10 Likelihood of signing? – 4/10
Radja Nainggolan – A few newspapers this week have reported that this is a deal which looks like happening, with some even suggesting the personal terms of a contract are close to being agreed. This is exciting news. Signing a player of the Belgian’s quality is proof the club remains an attractive proposition for players in their prime, even without the Champions League. The sealing of the deal this early shows that the board are committed to not making the same mistake of procrastinating in the market, the way they did last summer. Most importantly of all Nainggolan should provide exactly what our midfield has missed this season, with his mobility and aggression. Should Nemanja Matic regain his form, the pair could form a partnership as formidable as we’ve seen since Michael Essien and Ballack were running things, almost ten years ago.
Good for Chelsea? – 9/10 Likelihood of signing? – 8/10
Arturo Vidal – The Chilean is the best all round midfielder on the planet. It’s natural there should be excitement over reports that ‘contact has been made over his possible transfer’ as Italian news source Calciomercato revealed this week. It seems to me that rumours have been blown out of proportion by Conte’s professed love for the player. Only last week Vidal said he considers Bayern to be the best club in the world and hopes to retire there, and I can’t think of single reason Carlo Ancelotti would want to sell. This one remains a pipe dream.
Good for Chelsea – 10/10 Likelihood of signing? – 1/10
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – The silky smooth playmaker is another player to have been linked with a host of Premier League clubs, having declared his uncertainty over his short term future; Chelsea’s name is currently being included along with Arsenal and Liverpool as potential destinations. The Armenian is essentially the player Oscar has so far failed to become, matching the Brazilian for flair and elegance yet with far more impressive statistics. With Dortmund looking set to lose other of their big names however, (with Ilkay Gundogan allegedly heading for Man City and Mats Hummels going to Bayern), Mkhitaryan may be the one star they are able to re-sign to a long term contract.
Good for Chelsea – 7/10 Likelihood of signing? – 2/10
Romelu Lukaku – The Belgian isn’t the most popular player amongst Chelsea fans despite there being a decent number who still consider it a mistake to have let him leave. Despite having consistently accumulated good figures since joining Everton permanently, there remain doubts as to whether he has the potential to become of the very best strikers in the world. His disappointing display in the semi-final of the FA Cup against Man Utd, highlighting his foremost weaknesses. The fact that the fee would be huge and that he still probably wouldn’t be first choice striker makes this story seem an illogical one to me.
Good for Chelsea – 6/10 Likelihood of signing? – 2/10
There are a number of other strikers being linked who I don’t think it’s worth considering individually, the likes of Edinson Cavani, Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain I’m fairly close to certain won’t be signing this summer. I don’t think Antonio Conte will want to play regularly with two strikers, I think he’ll enjoy working with Diego Costa and so the likelihood of him spending a huge portion of his budget on a big name back-up centre forward seems extremely slim to me. The fact that Leicester and Tottenham have dominated the league this season with the likes of Heung-Min Son, Shinji Okazaki and Leanardo Ulloa as their back up centre forwards, shows that a great second choice is far from a necessity. With other areas in more urgent need of investment, hopefully we’ll get to see Bertrand Traore given a more prominent role in the squad, and with it a chance to prove he’s at least as worthy of the hype and praise currently being bestowed on Marcus Rashford and Kelechi Iheanacho.
So, to summarise, other than Radja Nainggolan, who we’re probably going to sign, we most likely won’t be signing any other of the players we’re currently linked with. Helpful, I know.
Leave a comment if you think I’ve missed anyone out. Or if you’re more optimistic than me about some of these targets…