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Boehly Bridge-ing the Gap: A Significant Summer at Chelsea

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A summer of significant change awaits at Chelsea. After the consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital won the race to become the new owners of the West London outfit, a new set of ground rules are likely to be set at Stamford Bridge. The first of those ground rules has come in the form of Thomas Tuchel being granted the freedom to choose his preferred transfer targets. With Marina Granovskaia and Bruce Buck’s future at the club hanging in the balance, the new owner Boehly has identified Tuchel as the man to build his project around, granting him the freedom to choose his men – in what can be a potentially ground-breaking moment for the club.

The Chelsea hierarchy under the ownership of Roman Abramovich always had the upper hand when it came to determining the names that they secured in the market, to an extent where it even contrasted with the manager’s shortlist. In the summer of 2020, Granovskaia led the Blues’ quest to land Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, despite speculation over then manager Frank Lampard not having either of the two in his shortlist. The Blues followed it up next summer with the club-record acquisition of Romelu Lukaku, who was reportedly the fourth choice on the strikers shortlist – the Belgian never quite fit in Tuchel’s plans and is likely to be shipped off on loan.

There was a clear lack of synchronisation between the club’s recruitment and the manager’s plans which often led to players being out of place in a system not built to their strengths. After a season where Chelsea finished 19 and 18 points behind winners Manchester City and Liverpool respectively, Boehly’s decision to hand Tuchel with full freedom to choose his targets similar to what Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp enjoy comes as an attempt to replicate their rivals – and bridge the gap between the Blues and their competitors at the top of the Premier League table. The German previously manifested a more refined approach to recruitment under the new owners – stating that the club needs ‘cosmetic surgery’ because of losing key players, and we will look at a few names he is likely to pursue based on recent transfer speculation as well as history.

DEFENCE:

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The departure of a number of key defenders from the Blues’ rear guard this summer leaves them thin in the department, forcing the club into approach at least a couple able replacements rather than reinforcement. Sevilla defender Jules Koundé is reportedly very close to securing a move to the English capital after the move to bring him to Chelsea collapsed last summer, while the gaping hole that Toni Rüdiger leaves on the left side of Tuchel’s back three is likely to be filled by a natural left-sided defender. Names such as Josko Gvardiol, Kalidou Koulibaly and Pau Torres have all been reported to be on the Blues’ radar, with the former being a name that Tuchel would reportedly like to slot into the left side of the Blues’ defensive three.

Amongst all the names that have surfaced of late, a more personalized option that is likely to have been suggested by Tuchel himself is Matthias de Ligt. The Juventus defender is a player much liked by the German head coach, but securing the 23-year-old Dutchman will certainly be expensive considering he has a release clause worth €120m in his contract. A more pocket-friendly option would be PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe, a left-sided defender who previously played under Tuchel. Leicester City’s Wesley Fofana and José Maria Giménez of Atlético Madrid have also been linked with the Blues, while Borna Sosa of Stuttgart also makes the Blues’ shortlist considering that the likely departure of Marcos Alonso will require a replacement at left-back.

MIDFIELD:

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In the middle of the pitch, West Ham United’s Declan Rice has been reportedly targeted by Chelsea but his price tag of over £100m makes him an improbable proposition for the Blues to pursue this summer. Hence, cheaper targets such as Brighton & Hove Albion’s Yves Bissouma and Ibrahim Sangaré of PSV have recently surfaced as Tuchel wants to beef up his midfield options. Bissouma or Sangaré will provide a different profile compared to Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic or N’Golo Kanté – while the former has established himself as a top Premier League midfielder with Brighton, the latter is fresh off a breakthrough season in the Eredivisie.

Another midfield option, though hardly linked with Chelsea in this transfer window so far, is transfer-listed Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong. Tuchel has long admired the Dutchman, and was reportedly in pursuit of de Jong when he made the switch from Ajax to Barcelona. Though it is Manchester United who are currently in pole position to sign the €80m-priced midfielder, Tuchel can indeed push for the club to put in a competitive bid – it has to be noted that de Jong wants Champions League football, a factor that plays to the Blues’ advantage.

The recruitment of Saúl Ñiguez in a summer where Aurelien Tchouaméni was available for just over £40m was a questionable decision, especially considering that the Blues have had only three high-profile midfielders going into the 2021/22 season. Kovacic – who had a spectacular season apart from his time out with injury – along with the fatigued Jorginho and the frequently unavailable Kanté meant that Chelsea had to bring out-of-favour Ruben Loftus-Cheek into the fray. A decision on securing an able back-up for any of the midfield trio could be made with the future in mind – both Jorginho and Kanté’s current contracts at the club are set to expire in 2023.

ATTACK:

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While securing new recruitment in defence and midfield are for certain, any ‘cosmetic surgery’ that Tuchel might force in attack depends on whether the Blues can free up space to accommodate a new attacker. Considering that the Blues are working on a deal that should take Romelu Lukaku back to Inter Milan on loan as well as listening to offers for either of Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic or Hakim Ziyech, there have been a plethora of names linked to the West London club. The most likely of the many names linked is Ousmane Dembélé of Barcelona, who is likely to join Chelsea on a free transfer. The Frenchman has previously played under Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund, having had the most productive season in his career under the German – his acquisition will add technique, flair and creativity to the Blues’ arsenal as they try and catch up with Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea racked up a total of 69.30 expected goals (xG) this season, a distance away from the winners’ 93.40 and the runners’ up’s 93.02. For a team that dropped 20 points from a winning position in the league last season, a fresh injection of creativity would do wonders – considering that the Blues are still overperforming their xG expectations with 76 goals scored last season. Though the barren patches set by marksmen over the years, finishing is not the Blues’ only problem as they fail to create the sheer amount of chances that their rivals tend to conjure.

Tuchel is also reportedly a big fan of Christopher Nkunku, the RB Leipzig man fresh off an impressive individual season that saw him win the 2021/22 Bundesliga Player of the Season award. Raheem Sterling of Manchester City is a more expensive option in case Tuchel wants more reinforcement on the flanks, while his City teammate Gabriel Jesus is another budget-friendly name that has popped up in recent weeks as Chelsea try and replace Romelu Lukaku up front – considering long-term target Robert Lewandowski only wants a move to Barcelona. However, FFP regulations might play spoilsport in the Blaugrana outfit’s pursuit of the Pole, and Chelsea can swoop in for a player that they have shown interest in over the past two summers.

A more specific transfer approach may help the Blues cut down the gap at the top of the table – in a summer where City have already secured the services of Erling Haaland and are pursuing able back-up options such as Marc Cucurella and Kalvin Phillips, while Liverpool are close to striking a deal to get Darwin Nuñez to Merseyside. However, just the fact that the Blues are changing their approach towards recruitment is a big step towards catching up with the big fish in the Premier League. However, a Director of Football is still something that Boehly is likely to have in mind in the long term, as they try and replicate the well-drilled recruitment policy, as well as the instant success that Fabio Paratici gave to their city, rivals Tottenham Hotspur last season.

While Manchester City and Liverpool are in a league of their own, Chelsea could claim to be just a tier below the land’s finest – and a make-or-break summer awaits for the West London club. It beckons the start of a new era as Chelsea move on from a hierarchy where the members of the board were awarded the freedom to go for their favoured set of targets, to one which gives its orchestrator the freedom to call every move regarding the club’s action in the transfer market. The Swiss-American consortium have identified Thomas Tuchel as one of the best managers in the world, as well as the main man to build their project around – and it would only help if the recruitment policy properly complements the system that the German wants his team to play.

OUR REALISTIC PREDICTIONS FOR CHELSEA’S TRANSFER WINDOW:

  • Jules Koundé (£50m)
  • Josko Gvardiol (£35m)
  • Borna Sosa (£25m)
  • Ibrahim Sangaré (£30m)
  • Ousmane Dembélé (free)
  • Gabriel Jesus (£45m)

REALISTIC CHELSEA LINE-UP NEXT SEASON (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Koundé, Thiago Silva, Gvardiol; James, Jorginho, Sangaré, Sosa; Dembélé, Havertz, Mount.

OUR DREAM PREDICTIONS FOR CHELSEA’S TRANSFER WINDOW:

  • Jules Koundé (£50m)
  • Kalidou Koulibaly (£30m)
  • Yves Bissouma (£40m)
  • Ousmane Dembélé (free)
  • Christopher Nkunku (£50m)
  • Robert Lewandowski (£30m)

DREAM ALTERNATE LINE-UP (4-2-3-1): Mendy; James, Koundé, Koulibaly, Chilwell; Bissouma, Kovacic; Dembélé, Mount, Nkunku; Lewandowski.

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