The new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, who made a name for himself in defensive and energetic Juventus, seems to have no good recipe for the already fragile Chelsea defence.
Chelsea conceded 53 goals last term after conceding 32 in their previous, title-winning, season. Conte was hired to make the team a hard nut to crack again.
While other managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are addressing their goalkeeper and defence situation with new signings and departures of unneeded players, Klopp seemingly doing a particularly good job, Conte seems to be doing things in a different way.
The only notable transfer in the defensive department is Abdul Baba Rahman, who was sent away on loan as he was told he was “too offensive”. Branislav Ivanović and Cesar Azpilicueta are now the only two senior fullbacks in the squad, right-footed Azpi being a primarily right fullback who can cover the left side if he needs to. There are four more youngsters, Kenedy and Cuevas on the left and Ola Aina and currently injured Todd Kane on the right.
Even if some of these young players grow to be real stars, it can’t be expected to happen right away, and Chelsea defensive record would definitely suffer while the young man grows into the role. Chelsea fan can only hope Ivanović and Azpilicueta will stay healthy and in-form throughout the season.
In central defence, things look even more serious. Gary Cahill is an average defender who lives and dies by the quality of his defensive partner, and he doesn’t have a proper one. John Terry will soon turn 36 and his lack of pace is forcing the team to play deeper, Kurt Zouma is 21 and his positioning is a bit erratic. Michael Hector, Matt Miazga and Kenneth Omeruo cannot (yet) handle top Premiership offenses and forwards.
Antonio Conte is a big fan of experienced defenders, coming from Italy where age in defensive line equals stability. From that perspective, he might be the only man who is happy Terry is 35 and will be building his defence around the veteran, probably with Cahill as his main partner and N’Golo Kante as the anchor in front of the defensive duo.
Chelsea would very much like to sign Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci but haven’t yet made a firm bid after the £50m offer from Manchester City has been rejected, and Conte is seeking alternative targets, not focusing exclusively on signing the 29-year-old.
Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is supposedly on Conte’s radar but the boss faces competition from Everton to secure the 25-year-old. Chelsea sold defender Papy Djilobodji to Sunderland for £8m this week, freeing up more space in Conte’s back line for a new addition. It remains to be seen who will that be.
The only position where Chelsea are taken care of is the goalkeeper position, with Thibaut Courtois as the first goalkeeper and ever-reliable Asmir Begović, 28, who has the homegrown status, as the reserve. But it seems Antonio Conte wants to sell Begović while bringing in 33-year-old Portugal third-choice goalkeeper Eduardo who even lost his place at Dinamo Zagreb due to lapses in concentration.
The only rumours coming from Chelsea are about the striker situation. Diego Costa was told to stay and prove himself despite his obvious desire to return to Atletico Madrid, and at the same time Chelsea are bidding £65m to re-sign their former player Romelu Lukaku. Is that a sign to Costa that he’s the first choice or that he isn’t trusted?
It remains to be seen what will Conte do with Chelsea, but most Chelsea fans are rightfully a bit frustrated with the events in this transfer window despite the superb signing of N’Golo Kante from Leicester.