It’s never easy to defend the Premier League crown, just ask Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea of 2015/16 that ended up finishing tenth. I can’t imagine a similar story befalling the side of Antonio Conte next season, but that doesn’t mean that the Italian can rest on his laurels in the transfer market. As those around the Blues strengthen, Roman Abramovich must empty his pockets to ensure none of their rivals overtake them in terms of development.
The weaknesses were there to be seen, with a slightly lightweight defence in terms of squad depth and a clear height deficiency between Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta, something that Tottenham, amongst others, took advantage of, whilst Diego Costa is almost certainly leaving Stamford Bridge after Conte texted him to tell him he was no longer needed.
With the likes of Alex Sandro, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Romelu Lukaku already sounded out as targets, Chelsea spending could rise to a figure in excess of £200 million. With that being said, here’s how they could line up on the opening day of the 2017/18 season.
GK: Thibaut Courtouis
The Golden Glove-winning goalkeeper was briefly linked with a move to Real Madrid, but Los Blancos have since decided to stick with Keylor Navas, so the towering Belgian is unlikely to be moving anywhere this summer. Willy Caballero has been brought in to replace the Bournemouth-bound Asmir Begovic, but it’d take a miracle for the Argentine to displace the sturdy hands of Courtois.
CB: Kostas Manolas/Antonio Rudiger
Current club: Roma
Fee: £30 million
As of yet, Chelsea have been linked with both Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rudiger of Serie A club Roma. Chelsea were rumoured to swoop on Manolas after the Greek centre-back stalled on a move to Zenit St Petersburg, but the German defender, away with his country at the Confederations Cup, has dominated the headlines over the past few days with his agent allegedly flying to London to hold talks with the Blues.
Either way, Conte will be ensuring that a weakness in the squad has been addressed and regardless of which defender they sign, it will be one of first team quality with experience in a counter-attacking 3-4-3. Perhaps Rudiger might be the better of the two options given that he’s 24-years-old and represents a slightly younger option than Manolas, but both are an upgrade on Cesar Azpilicueta.
CB: David Luiz
The panic purchase on deadline day of the summer transfer window last season turned out to be a masterstroke by Conte and the frizzy-haired cult hero was one of the Blues’ standout stars of a title-winning campaign. He organised the defensive line with excellent maturity and seemed a different, far more complete, defender than the error-prone Brazilian Chelsea sold to Paris Saint-Germain in 2014. He has the capabilities to step up into the midfield, too, and pick a pass into the final third, hence why he will retain his roll as the ball-playing defender in the middle of the back three.
CB: Gary Cahill
I can’t see Chelsea realistically signing two new centre-backs in the transfer window and young back-ups Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen are some way off first team material just yet, so Gary Cahill is likely to keep his place as Chelsea’s captain. He can certainly be upgraded on and it’s clear he’s still slightly uncomfortable in a back three, especially with the need to drift wider to cover the marauding wingbacks, but with a replacement unlikely to be signed, it’s Cahill for another season at least. He did a fine job in 2016/17 and again demonstrated his excellent leadership abilities. He’s the ideal candidate to take over from John Terry in the short-term at the very least.
RWB: Cesar Azpilicueta
Sorry Victor Moses. The winger-turned-wingback had a fantastic season and unexpectedly transformed as a player, but he was never seen as a sustainable long-term option in the position and the likely arrival of a first team centre-back (either Manolas or Rudiger of Roma) will see Cesar Azpilicueta shunted back out wide to his more familiar position.
The Spaniard had a solid season at centre-back, but his height let him down on more than one occasion and he’s a far better fit for the wing-back role, with the Azpilicueta-Moses right flank set-up feeling more of a stop-gap than a sustainable solution. Azpilicueta offers a more defensive complement to the attacking options Conte will have on the left and he’s comfortable dropping into the backline should one of the centre-backs decide to roam forwards.
CM: N’Golo Kante
The PFA Player of the Year for 2016/17 and one of Chelsea’s most important players isn’t going anywhere. It’s no coincidence that he’s won the title in two consecutive years with two different clubs. In both Leicester and Chelsea’s title win, the common denominator has been N’Golo Kante and he’ll play a vital role in any title challenge the Blues mount in 2017/18. He was the engine room of this side and covers the same amount of ground as two players, such is his industry.
CM: Tiemoue Bakayoko
Current club: AS Monaco
Fee: £35 million
It’s a shame that Monaco’s side are going to get ripped apart by vultures this summer and Chelsea are first in the queue for Tiemoue Bakayoko’s signature. One of the under-appreciated heroes of Monaco’s Ligue 1-winning campaign, but the perfect replacement for the Manchester United-bound Nemanja Matic. One of the issues in Chelsea’s midfield has been their supposed lack of creativity with a Matic-Kante pairing, but Bakayoko brings a degree of forward-thinking with him and this slightly more attacking mindset will complement Kante well. That’s not to say Bakayoko can’t defend though. The Frenchman is extremely strong and powerful, which stands him in good stead for the physicality of the Premier League.
LWB: Alex Sandro
Current club: Juventus
Fee: £60 million
This will be one of Chelsea’s best summer signings and for all the work Marcos Alonso put into last year’s campaign, Alex Sandro represents a vast improvement on the Spaniard. The Juventus wingback is significantly more attacking than Alonso and will offer a great complement to the more defensive mindset of Azpilicueta on the opposite flank.
However, Sandro is blessed with great speed and stamina, meaning he’s capable of tracking back to defend once an attack breaks down. Moreover, the Brazilian has been working at Juventus under the guidance of the legendary Dani Alves, pioneer of the modern wingback, and, coupled with his experience in the Champions League final, will arrive at Stamford Bridge a knowledgeable player ready to hit the ground running. With Alonso to back up Sandro, Chelsea will be well-stocked in this department.
At the beginning of last season I would have said Pedro could have been upgraded on, but the former Barcelona winger had a stunning season with the Blues and cemented his role in the starting XI. He’s one of Chelsea’s hardest working players and is capable of cutting inside and finishing, crossing from the byline and threading balls through the defence, perfect attributes for Pedro’s all-encompassing role in the 3-4-3.
ST: Romelu Lukaku
Current club: Everton
Fee: £60-70 million
Whilst Everton are demanding a fee in the region of £100 million for Romelu Lukaku’s services, I think Chelsea will be able to whittle that down to around £60-70 million after some tough negotiating. My personal opinion is that Lukaku doesn’t actually fit into Chelsea’s style.
Whilst he can finish with aplomb and has done consistently for a few seasons, question marks hang over his work ethic and Conte needs a striker willing to work the channels and make a nuisance in the final third, a la Diego Costa. Nonetheless, Lukaku is the target identified and the one Chelsea have been pursuing and we expect to see him in a Chelsea shirt at the beginning of 2017/18.
LAM: Eden Hazard
Kante may have won the Player of the Year award, but that’s not to say Eden Hazard’s role diminished in any way whatsoever. Playing with newfound confidence and freedom in a 3-4-3, Conte has seemingly unlocked the power of Hazard and has given him the platform to flourish.
He’s Chelsea’s final third difference-maker and the one player they look to get the ball to when in need of a goal, a lift in morale or just to make something happen. There’s no way Chelsea are letting him go this summer. Frankly, they wouldn’t be the same team without him.
Would this Chelsea side retain the Premier League title? Who else would the Blues need to replace? Let us know in the comments section below.