With the season starting today, we gathered a panel to sit down and discuss Chelsea’s summer ahead of the new campaign.
#1 How do you assess Chelsea’s transfer dealings this summer?
Farkhanda: To-the-point transfers. With Courtois out, Chelsea needed a young replacement. And by having Rob Green to free up the money for Kepa is a good deal. The best signing is Jorginho. Then having Kovacic on loan would bring further depth to the midfield. Overall, good enough to kick start the season with confidence.
Michele: Honestly, I don’t think it was a great transfer market. They practically brought on just two probable starters in Jorginho and Kepa and the latter, although he’s a good prospect, has been a bit overpaid. Chelsea was lacking a proven centre-back and they still do.
Lash: Better late than never but the final hours of the transfer window rescued what was looking like an underwhelming summer. The Jorginho and Kovacic signings will help Sarri implement his style of play a lot easier and the signing of Kepa, although expensive, could potentially be a fantastic signing and a mainstay in Chelsea’s goal for years to come. Most importantly, they’ve managed to keep hold of Eden Hazard, for now. 7/10.
Andrew: There’s not much Chelsea fans can complain about this window. Kepa’s transfer fee was ludicrous, but that’s a by-product of the ludicrous market more than anything. The fact he was secured before Courtois was sold showed common sense, as did bringing in Jorginho. Sarri obviously knows him well, and he could fill the void left by Matic. Including Kovacic in the Courtois deal was a brilliant move too; minimal financial outlay, and proven quality.
#2 What would represent a successful season for Chelsea?
Farkhanda: If Chelsea can secure Champion League football for the next season and win at least one of the domestic cups, this would be a successful first season for Sarri.
Michele: A successful season would be if Chelsea would be able to reach a Champions League spot. That said, Maurizio Sarri’s side will face tough competitors. Manchester City, Liverpool and maybe Tottenham look better teams than Chelsea, better equipped to reach the heights. Manchester United and Arsenal are strong enough to be contenders so it won’t be easy.
Lash: With a new manager in charge who needs to radically change the type of football at the club, this season will be a transitional season for the Blues. Expectations should not be too high; a top 4 finish with good and respectable runs in the cup competitions would be acceptable.
Andrew: The top of the table is becoming more and more congested thanks to Tottenham and Liverpool strengthening in the last couple of years. Honestly, top four would be fantastic, but there’s no reason why it can’t be achieved. Champions League quarter-finals would be a decent return in Europe. What’s far more important is how well Maurizio Sarri settles in; with long-term trust he could be revolutionary.
#3 Which young player do you expect to break through this season? Why?
Farkhanda: Ethan Ampadu. A young defender who is God-gifted with the ball at his feet. What else does Sarri want?
Michele: Everyone fell in love with Callum Hudson-Odoi after his display in the Community Shield so he would be an easy pick. Instead, I would go with Michy Batshuayi. Alvaro Morata struggled against the Citizens whilst Sarri was a bit disappointed as Chelsea failed to sign Gonzalo Higuaín. So, I expect Batshuayi to step up and show what he’s able to do in Sarri’s system.
Lash: Callum Hudson-Odoi has already had Chelsea fans salivating at his potential during pre-season but hopes shouldn’t be pinned on him just yet. Ruben Loftus-Cheek MUST establish himself at Chelsea this season. He’s back at the Bridge now with a year of Premier League football in his legs as well as an experience of the World Cup. It’s up to him now to step up and grab his opportunity.
Andrew: Despite the sweeping criticism from outside the club over the loan system, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a shining example of how it can go right. An excellent season at Crystal Palace followed by a deserved England call-up leaves him in confident form. It would be strange to ignore his potential to offer physical power, intelligence and goal threat. Even if he doesn’t play all season as first choice, he must be trusted now.
#4 How much expectation do you have that Maurizio Sarri will balance the unsettled elements in the squad?
Farkhanda: Very much! Sarri has already signed Jorginho to solidify the midfield base – something which the Blues were clearly lacking after Matic. This will also free up Kante to go up and may give the freedom to utilise the creativity of Fabregas. Then having full-backs will protect the wide regions of the defensive third – which were vulnerable with the wing-backs. Finally, reducing the centre-backs to two will reduce the backward passing options, something which kept Chelsea’s build-up stagnant last season.
Michele: This is a big question mark. Latest season at Napoli, Sarri was accused of lining up the same starting XI, forgetting backups. I don’t think he will follow the same path at Stamford Bridge. I’m curious to see which elements will step up.
Lash: This is a tough question to answer especially at a club like Chelsea. The squad could be in a harmonious paradise for one half of the season and then completely collapse into dark turmoil for the other half. The noises out of the players last year was that they were tired of Conte’s defensive football, let’s hope they buy into Sarri’s more adventurous ‘Sarri-ball’.
Andrew: Any chain-smoking Italian manager is worth his weight in gold. In all seriousness, he didn’t claw his way up from lower-league management to running one of Italy’s most turbulent clubs with the utmost skill by being a soft touch. With a trusted lieutenant in Jorginho in place, he has an automatic route to the players on a personal level. Most importantly, he carries huge respect for his record at Napoli, so will command respect until he throws it away.
#5 Which opposition player would you secretly love to see in a Chelsea shirt?
Farkhanda: Sergio Aguero.
Michele: Absolutely Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. He’s the prototype of the modern midfielder; he’s tough enough to recover ball through tackling but he’s also very good with the ball at his feet so that he can play as an attacking midfielder too. He’s physically strong and he’s nearly unbeatable in the air. Milinkovic-Savic would be an absolute upgrade over the current Chelsea midfielders.
Lash: Definitely Sergio Aguero. He encompasses everything a world class striker should be in a top club. A deadly finisher on both feet and can score from inside and outside the box. Would be a fantastic upgrade on Alvaro Morata.
Andrew: Aleksandr Golovin. It was a blow when he went to Monaco instead of the Bridge as I believe he could have been an absolute gem in midfield. His age, talent and mentality were hugely promising – not to mention the relatively low price tag – and he’s handled Champions League football comfortably.