By Anirudh Shenoy.
Chelsea : Conte, Kante and The Champions League.
Chelsea have been special over the 2016–17 season, something that even their greatest detractors would agree with.
They’ve shown us that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts with the likes of Victor Moses who could be termed as “mid table” in seasons gone by looking the most menacing wing back in the league.
But this Chelsea side are going to need a couple of reinforcements if Conte is to raise the English banner high in the Champions League.
Chelsea have lined up like this on several occasions, (with Cahill at LCB and Luiz at CB)
This Chelsea side on their day is as good as any in Europe but sadly for them, their main man Diego Costa hasn’t been having “one of his days” recently. Ever since the rumours of a potential move to China, the Spanish striker has been a shadow of the beast he was in the first part of the season where he had more desire and drive, something clearly lacking over the last couple of months.
In addition to this, Nemanja Matic isn’t what he was under Jose Mourinho. Not to say he’s become a bad player but he’s not a midfielder who you’d want with a Kante in midfield. They do similar jobs and what Chelsea need to challenge the really top sides is sitting right on their bench, but for some strange reason Fabregas doesn’t seem to get as many games as he should. Whenever he’s been utilized of the bench, he’s unlocked defenses but his lack of defensive contribution has implied very selective usage.
At the back, Gary Cahill has played on the left side of three and has been found out on occasion versus raw brutal pace. Cahill isn’t the fastest centre half in the world, but the fact that he’s right footed in this particular system, compounds the problem.
So, what do Chelsea need to do to be top of the pile in Europe and not only in England?
- A world class centre forward.
The rumours that Alexis Sanchez wants a move and would prefer to stay in London are doing the rounds and having played as a 9 for large parts of this season, and given the pace of the Chelsea wide men, you’ll think he’d be a perfect fit for this Chelsea side. However if Chelsea do not manage to sign the Chilean, there would appear to be a shortage in world class striking options across leagues and one would wonder if a move back for Romelu Lukaku could be on the cards. The only problem with this? The Belgian has scored three against the Top6 all season, with two coming against a rather disjointed City defense. He’s gone missing and a lot of his goals have come against the lesser likes at home, causing him to be labelled a “flat track bully” at times.
- A partner to N’golo Kante.
It is understandable that Matic’s stats are less with respect to interceptions and tackles won due to the rise of Kante however, that should have freed up some space and time for him to have more key passes or successful passes. And Kante certainly isn’t winning any aerial duels, something else that Matic is down on from two seasons ago.
What they need is not another Kante like player but a more creative influence, and one would be off the opinion that Radja Nainggolan from Roma seems to be a good fit. Conte will know all of the midfielders talent and qualities from his time in Italy, making the Belgian a smart choice to partner Kante. It would be foolish if Conte let go of Matic who could be utilised as a very good squad player.
- A left sided centre half
When Man United signed relatively unknown entity Eric Bailly, most fans were skeptic. But with his first season in English football coming to a close, it is fairly obvious that he has been a success. In contrast Ayermic Laporte has been identified as a top young centre back for a couple of years now, and is the sort of player that could slot in very nicely on the left side of the 3 centre backs and is a decent ball player as well.
Here is how Laporte racks up against two of the best centre backs in the league.
Pretty decent numbers for a kid, is all I’ll say.
These would appear to be Chelsea’s biggest concerns in Europe for the next season, and of course hoping David Luiz does not land up being erratic and manages to improve his positioning and trust his pace a little more and push up with the other two centre backs, something he has not achieved this season, which was exposed by Marcus Rashford a couple of weeks ago.
The returning left back Baba Rahman would appear to be a good deputy to Marcos Alonso, while Gary Cahill, Kurt Zouma and Nathan Ake all provide good cover for the three centre back slots. Whether Conte chooses to buy a backup for Moses or play Azpillicueta at right wing back when necessary remains to be seen.
In midfield, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic seem to be too good to be on any team’s bench but might have to be satisfied with just that in the coming season.
Up front, Chelsea have three world class wingers for two slots and if they can sort out their striker woes they look good in attack as well.
Of course, one would hope the plethora of talent they have at Vitese or indeed amongst the players that won the youth cup will play an active part in the squad, of the bench atleast but that remains to be seen.
As of now, Chelsea is English football’s only real hope in Europe and as a Premier league fan I hope that the rest of England catches up soon.