While the transfer window has been pushed back until August, Chelsea are making their moves now. And they are not going to waste their time, having not signed anyone for two windows now. They have already committed around £35 million to bring in Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, and look set to complete a deal for RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, beating stiff competition from Liverpool. They aren’t done there either as Lampard has identified two more players as targets, neither of which will come cheap. Kai Havertz is one supposed target while Ben Chilwell continues to be linked with a move to the capital. Both would undoubtedly improve the squad, and help to close the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool. Some have raised questions as to signing these players would stifle the young players who have come through this season when Lampard has had to rely on them to take a leading role for parts of the season. I think this will not happen. Chelsea only held on to some of those players in the current first-team squad because last summer because they would not have been able to replace them if they were sold. And you need a squad to compete throughout a season. You cannot rely on eleven players to play the whole season. That means that by definition you will have multiple players who can play the same position, to cover for injuries, form and squad rotation.
Now that the club is able to dip into the transfer market again, some players will be identified as ones to be moved on. Victor Moses, Danny Drinkwater, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Emerson Palmieri, Michy Batshuayi and Davide Zappacosta have all reportedly been told they do not have futures at Stamford Bridge under Frank Lampard and the club hope that this clearout will raise about £160 million, which would finance the deals for Havertz and Chilwell. Left-back has been a problem area for Chelsea for a few years. There are rumours that Marcos Alonso is the subject of interest from Newcastle United and he might also depart. I have said this before and I will say it again. When playing as a wing-back Marcos Alonso is one of the best around, because he does not have to carry so much defensive responsibility and can really supplement the attack. But Frank generally prefers to play with a flat back four and neither Alonso nor Emerson have done enough for me to tie that spot down and make it their own. Ben Chilwell has managed to tie down the left-back spot for England and has consistently performed to a high standard in the Premier League for a few years now. I think he would be a great buy, a player who can provide support when attacking but is very capable on the defensive side of things.
Much will be made of Chelsea’s spending if these deals do go through. But even with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the suspension of the season, if anyone wants to close the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City who have been the runaway sides of the last two seasons then a serious amount of money is going to need to be spent to achieve that. To be challenging for Champions League football in his first season without being able to strengthen his squad is a genuine achievement for Frank Lampard, not to mention that Chelsea are still in the F.A. Cup and the Champions League, although that does look unlikely to go any further, what with Bayern Munich leading the tie 3-0.
Chelsea were in an advantageous financial position in that they had been sitting on the huge fee they recieved for Eden Hazard last summer, around £85-90 million up front. Add to that as well that the club is owned by one of the richest men on the planet who is willing to start spending big, while many clubs are looking at a summer where they may not be able to match the asking prices set on the elite players. There is also talk that they may decide to cash in N’Golo Kante with Real Madrid apparently interested. The reported fee is around £70 million which would only add to the war chest at Lampard’s disposal.
To me though, there are a couple of other factors to take away from this. The first is that Chelsea are getting their business done early, while everyone else is on the back foot. That hasn’t been the case for a good few years. Far too often in the last few transfer windows, Chelsea have been struggling to get their deals done and over the line. In fact, it seems to have cost them the opportunity to sign their top targets and they have had to go for the alternatives, few of whom have worked out. It also speaks to the fact that the board are looking to back Frank Lampard and that they feel he is the man to take them forward. According to reports, one of the factors that persuaded Timo Werner to join Chelsea was a three year plan in place to have Chelsea regularly at the top of the Premier League table again. One of the factors in that plan was that Lampard would be staying on as manager for a long time. And that is such a breath of fresh air at Chelsea. While the Abromovich era has brought unprecendented success to Chelsea, it has been at the cost of a long-term stability plan, with the club peaking and troughing rather violently. With this new plan in place and the board’s backing of Frank in the transfer window to sign his top targets and not try to find a bargin, Chelsea may now have their most stable period, on the pitch at least, in many years. And I am wildly excited for what may be around the corner.