Chelsea’s players returned to Cobham on Monday to begin preparations for the upcoming season. The Blues start their preseason fixtures on 22 July against Arsenal during a week-long trip to Asia.
As the players start to assemble, the outlook for the 2017-2018 Chelsea squad is still a bit cloudy. Chelsea supporters have been frustrated with the club’s lack of signings so far, and reports suggest that manager Antonio Conte isn’t pleased with the lack of movement either.
Despite the frustrations around the status of the club, this is a side that won the Premier League back in May and will likely start this season with nearly all of that squad still intact.
Right now, the back end of the Chelsea squad has the fewest questions looming over their heads to start the season. Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake departed for Bournemouth, but this is one area where signings have been made to fill those gaps.
Willy Caballero replaces Begovic as Chelsea’s backup goalkeeper after a good season with Manchester City, especially when deputising for Claudio Bravo. Chelsea also added another centre back, signing Antonio Rudiger from Roma.
With the signing of Rudiger and the return of Andreas Christensen from a loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach, Conte will have at least five centre backs, suggesting that a back three will be the preferred formation to start next season.
That’s been underlined by Chelsea’s pursuit of Alex Sandro, who’s future plans are still undecided, and their recent move for Real Madrid’s right back Danilo. As a right back, Danilo is a bit suspect, but he is a good attacking wing back.
Danilo and Alex Sandro would provide competition for Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso in the wing back roles – yet another suggestion that a back three is on the cards.
The midfield is where Chelsea haven’t changed at all. All of Chelsea’s midfield from last season have reported for training, despite rumours that Nemanja Matic may be allowed to move if the right offer comes in.
But Matic’s move is most likely dependent on Chelsea landing another one of their transfer targets, Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco. The addition of Bakayoko would be a welcome addition to a midfield that at times last season struggled to control matches.
Bakayoko would likely become the younger replacement for Matic, whether the Serbian moves on or not, but the longer this transfer rumbles on, the more uneasy the supporters will become.
The forwards are the one area of the squad where the most uncertainty exists. The wide areas are fine, although Eden Hazard’s broken ankle will likely keep him out until mid-September. It will likely mean that Pedro and Willian will be the first-choice players in the wide areas until Hazard’s return, but Charlie Musonda has been given the number 17 for the start of the season, suggesting that he may be given a chance to be the fourth option in that area.
Striker, however, is another story. Romelu Lukaku’s move to Manchester United was a severe blow to Chelsea’s plans, especially after a questionable text from Conte to Diego Costa this summer. Costa has not returned for preseason and is likely moving on this summer to join Atletico Madrid, either directly or via a loan until January and then a move to the Spanish side.
It leaves Chelsea in a bit of a bind. As of right now, Michy Batshuayi is the only senior striker in the squad, and while Chelsea have been linked with Alvaro Morato, Andrea Belotti, and now Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, no reports of bids or serious offers have materialised, leaving the striker situation looking a bit grim.
The worst part of all of this is that Chelsea supporters have seen all of this before. After winning the Premier League title in 2014-2015, the Blues failed to land any of their primary transfer targets and put up the worst defence of a Premier League title until last season.
Last season, N’Golo Kante arrived and was integral to the side, but Chelsea have struggled to land their primary transfer targets since signing Cesc Fabregas and Costa prior to the 2014-2015 season. Even David Luiz’s arrival last August was a late move after the Blues failed to sign Leonardo Bonucci and Kalidou Koulibaly before the final days of the transfer window.
Chelsea must finish building their squad, bringing in the right players over the next few weeks, if they want to seriously compete on both the domestic and European fronts. Another important fact is that Conte has yet to sign a contract extension that has been on offer since the end of last season.
In the past, Conte walked away from the Juventus job after disagreements over transfer policy, before taking the Italy job. If this transfer window again goes sour, Chelsea could be looking for another manager at some point in the future.