Chelsea, the champions of England! Few people, including Chelsea fans like myself, would not have bet on Chelsea being champions. The same team had finished in 10th place in the previous season and people were wondering what was next for arguably one of the most successful Premier League clubs during the past decade. But in came Antonio Conte and he inspired the players. Every player in the squad played up to their potential and some even surpassed expectations. But can Chelsea rely on Conte’s magic again? What if players like Hazard get injured? Can players like Moses continue to play above expectations? Who will replace Costa? These questions need to be addressed because Chelsea will be expected to carry the Premier League flag in Europe next season and also to prevent another fall from grace like 2015–16.
All through this past season, managers and pundits alike mentioned the lack of injuries at Chelsea and there is no denying this. The Blues’ squad is probably the thinnest among the top 6 and that is a major red flag going forward. So let’s run through the squad and focus on which position needs strengthening and who Conte and Chelsea should target. With Begovic having completed his move to Bournemouth, Chelsea need a backup for Courtois. Recent rumors suggest that Caballero could well this position and this could be a shrewd peace of business. Caballero has Premier League experience with Manchester City and could play a key role in Chelsea’s domestic cup runs.
Ahead of Courtois, the three man (or sometimes five man) defense performed admirably during the first half of the season. However, they started to leak goals during the second half of the season and some of the players started being caught out as fatigued kicked in. First off, Victor Moses needs to be given enormous credit for slotting in to the right wing back role and excelling in it. He was great going forward, creating chances and scoring goals but his offensive output fell away during the second half. Chelsea need to buy a new wing back to compete with Moses and also provide some depth in that position because currently there is no one that provides the same balance as Moses does. A recent name in the news has been Dani Alves and he would definitely be a great acquisition to improve the team. Even if Alves gets prized away by Manchester City, Conte needs to ensure than he brings in someone to keep Moses on his toes.
Similarly, the left wing back, Marcos Alonso exceeded expectations and was one of the best left backs in the country. But what happens when he gets injured or suffers a run of poor form? It seems that Conte might have addressed this issue, with reports indicating that Alex Sandro will be on his way to London in a £60 million move. Sandro is definitely an elite player but his big-money move might be harsh on Alonso who may have to make way for Sandro. A position that Chelsea not do need to blow money on is center back. David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Azpilicueta were solid all through the season and that meant, Kurt Zouma did not get much playing time. But he will play a key role in the upcoming reason as Chelsea fights for trophies on multiple fronts. But the ace up Chelsea’s sleeve are two youngsters, Nathan Ake and Andres Christiensen. Both of them have excelled during their loans spells and could easily step in when required. Therefore, it would be a waste if Chelsea were to go and spend huge sums of money on someone like Bonucci, because the team does not need such players at the moment.
Moving into midfield, the first thing Conte needs to do is ensure that Cesc Fabregas stays. The Spanish midfielder had to settle for a squad player role but he still racked up 11 assists (4th best in the league). Chelsea needs his magic to unlock defenses and also provide depth in the midfield position. A transfer that is set to be completed in the upcoming week is Bakayoko. He will bring a new dynamism to the team and is definitely an upgrade on Matic. Bakayoko is more balanced, providing more going forward, while still being solid in defense. However, Chelsea cannot afford to let Matic leave, and especially not to Manchester United because Bakayoko is young will need time to adapt to English football. Also, let’s not forget Nathanial Chalobah because he has clearly impressed Conte and if he continues to work hard, he can break through next season and make the cup competitions his own. Furthermore, it is because of Chalobah that Chelsea do not really need to invest in attacking midfielders because it allows Conte to play Fabregas in a more attacking role. Therefore, Hazard, Willian, Pedro and Fabregas are more than adequate for the two positions behind the striker.
Last but not the least, let’s talk about Diego Costa and the striker’s position. Costa’s head had been turned by the big offer from China in January and his goal output dropped ever since. But the problems stemmed from much before that. He had asked for a transfer last summer but Conte convinced him to stay. Fast forward one year and Conte told Costa that he does not want him next season (this discussion can be set aside for another article). The question is who can fill Costa’s boots? The most adequate replacement would be Romelu Lukaku. He has become one of the most potent strikers in England and if it was not for Harry Kane, he would have won the golden boot this year. Plus, Lukaku will have a desire to prove critics wrong and show that he can actually make it at a big club like Chelsea. The club should do everything in their power to land Lukaku because under Conte he can improve tactically and mentally, and with Hazard and Fabregas creating chances, Lukaku has the ability to score more goals.