Chelsea must move for new defenders in transitional phase
October 6, 2016
When Antonio Conte was announced as Chelsea manager supporters will naturally have assumed that their defensive struggles of the 2015/16 campaign were at an end. The Blues conceded over 53 goals in the failed defence of their crown, but the Italian’s success in forming stoic outfits at Juventus and as Italy manager, brought confidence of another charge for the Premier League title.
However, Chelsea have endured a stuttering start to life under their new manager, taking 13 points from their opening seven matches of the term. Senior players have struggled to match their performances of two years ago, suggesting that Conte could be prepared to move them on.
Although the Blues are marginally off the pace in the race for the crown, trailing Manchester City by five points, they remain one of the contenders to lift the trophy in May currently being backed in the latest Premier League betting odds at 16/1.
John Terry gave Chelsea a huge boost towards the end of last season when he renewed his contract for one year, ensuring that defensive reinforcements were not a necessity with Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma present in the squad.
Conte’s men started the campaign on a strong note, claiming victories in their opening three matches against West Ham, Watford and Burnley. However, the first signs of defensive problems reared their head in a 2-2 draw against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.
Gary Cahill made a horrendous error to allow Leroy Fer to put the Swans ahead, although the Blues salvaged a point when Diego Costa scored a late equaliser. The England international has struggled this season, continuing his issues from last term and Euro 2016 when he allowed Kolbeinn Sigthorsson to find the back of the net in the Three Lions’ humiliating loss to Iceland.
Branislav Ivanovic has also failed to find his best form, prompting suggestions that he could leave the club in the near future. The Serb has been a steady operator for the Blues, but at the age of 32 his days at right-back appear to be numbered.
As a result, Chelsea have been on the search for new defenders and re-signed David Luiz from Paris Saint-Germain after failing to land their primary targets over the summer. The club reportedly missed out on the signings of AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, forcing them to go back to the Brazilian for additional depth at the back.
Due to Cahill and Ivanovic’s struggles along with Terry’s age, the signings of Romagnoli and Koulibaly would have been a massive boost for Conte’s long-term plans. The Milan defender is only 21, while the Napoli centre-back is 25 and entering the prime of his career.
Should Chelsea sign either of those players over the next year their defence would be in good shape, allowing Conte to mould them into copies of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, who helped his Juventus teams dominate Serie A.
The Blues have also been linked with Burnley’s Michael Keane, a transfer that would echo their move to sign Cahill from Bolton Wanderers in 2012. Keane is on the rise in the Premier League having been an integral part of the Clarets’ push back to the top flight and has already put in a series of promising displays this season. His form was good enough to earn him a call-up to the England squad for their clash against Malta and has shown enough potential to be a mainstay of the national side for the years to come.
The next couple of transfer windows will be an important step for Conte as he seeks to put his stamp on the club. Chelsea are entering a transitional phase and must get it right to remain in contention for major trophies.