So, pre-season training has begun, and our first friendly (conveniently against Arsenal) is but ten days away. What has changed? Well JT has departed for the midlands. Good luck to him at Aston Villa. It will take some getting used to not seeing him in a Chelsea shirt. Other departures are Nathan Ake to Bournemouth, who is joined on the south coast by Asmir Begovic. Good luck to both also.
Sometime first teamer last season Ola Aina has joined Hull City on loan, whilst Tammy Abraham gets (we hope) and opportunity to play in the Premier league on loan at Swansea City. Out of contract Dominic Solanke will join Liverpool with a fee set by tribunal.
As far as incoming transfers, it has been relatively thin on the ground so far, only Willy Caballero joining on a free from Manchester City to bolster the goal keeping ranks, and Antonio Rudiger joining from Roma. The German centre back was excellent for Roma last season as they gave Juventus a good run for their money in Serie A. Adept in a back three, which Roma utilised on occasions last season, as have the German national team with Rudiger featuring in this summer’s Confederations up, and in a back four. Strong in the tackle and a good reader of play, hopefully he will strengthen our squad defensively.
It remains to be seen whether further defensive recruitments will arrive. I have a hatred of the off-season ‘paper talk’, which so often proves not to be worth the paper it’s written on, so I won’t be drawn on rumours, but as far as the facts go, we have lost two defenders with one arriving. The loss of John Terry encompasses much more than losing an experienced centre back. We have lost perhaps the greatest captain and leader that the club has ever seen. He will be a huge loss in the dressing room, both in organisational terms, and as a figure head for younger players to look up to. Gary Cahill will no doubt take on the mantle of galvanising team spirit. Ake was brought back midway through last season as backup, which purely in terms of the number of central defenders available, would lead you to think that Conte would like at least one more to increase the strength in depth. Personally, I think this should be provided by Andreas Christensen. On loan at Borussia Monchengladbach for the last two seasons, he has excelled, winning young defender of the year, and fans player of the year in his time there. Whilst I have no problems the way the academy is run, in fact I applaud it’s use as a revenue generating system, for Christensen to be let go would be hugely disappointing for me, as I think he genuinely has the ability to do a job at the top level, and while we need back up now, soon we will be requiring a centre back who is able to come straight into the starting line-up. Since he doesn’t seem to have been included on the squad list so far it perhaps doesn’t look promising. Does Conte also see Azpilicueta in the back three long term, or would he prefer him as a right wing back?
The answer to that question may lie in what Conte’s plans are for our future system. At Juventus he operated predominantly with a 3-5-2, and with the wing backs being the sole source of width both defensively and offensively, it would require a player of Azpilicueta’s ilk to make this work. What may be holding him back from this idea at present is that we don’t have sufficient centre forwards available to operate with two up top. As previously, I won’t mention rumours here, as has been proven by the talk that Lukaku was a ‘done deal’! But at present Costa and Batshuayi are our only available centre forwards. Each time Conte switched to 3-5-2 last season he used Hazard as the second striker, and this would be an option. Particularly as the way he used the system at Juventus saw Tevez dropping deep and linking with Llorente who played more with his back to goal. A potential negative for a switch to this system would be that it would be hard to shoe horn in some of last season’s top performers into this shape. Pedro for instance could potentially only fit in as one of the central three midfielders. Not his best position.
We will no doubt get a better picture as to the plans of Antonio Conte as the start to the season draws closer. Also, don’t forget that we signed Luiz and Alonso on deadline day last season, so other recruitment’s can still be expected. It would however be best to have the squad in place for pre-season so that Conte has more time to mould them ready for the start of the new campaign. The Community shield is less than a month away!