With just under three weeks until the start of the season and almost two weeks of preseason fixtures under our belts, the makeup of the Chelsea squad for the 2016-2017 hasn’t completely been decided. Coming up on having two full weeks as manager of Chelsea, Antonio Conte is starting the process of shaping the squad, both tactically and personnel-wise, into his vision for the upcoming season.
However, having made just two signings, albeit in two key areas, more reinforcements seem to be needed, if it’s to be believed that Conte would like four more players to shore up the squad depth this year.
It’s now time to look at the squad as it stands now and look at the strengths and weaknesses in each area of the pitch and perhaps look at players that Chelsea should be considering as signings.
Striker is one position where the Blues have needed to strengthen, possibly even before last season, and one man has been brought in over the summer to add to the quality in that position.
Michy Batshuayi arrived from Marseille for £33 million just after his Belgium side was knocked out of the European Championships. His arrival fills in the gap at striker that was left by the departure of two loanees from last season, Falcao and Alexandre Pato.
However, Falcao and Pato never really made much of an impact last season — the former being injured for most of the season and the latter arriving in the January window completely lacking fitness — and with the seemingly oft-injured Loic Remy, who may also be departing this summer, another striker, perhaps a second one, was desperately needed.
With Batshuayi, you have a player with vast potential who did a good goal scoring record with Marseille last season, average nearly a goal every two games — 23 in 50 appearances. However, comparisons with a former signing from Marseille, Didier Drogba, should be tempered immediately. Batshuayi, while powerful and strong, is just not the same player as Drogba. At just around 6’0” tall, he’s not quite the aerial threat that Drogba was nor does he quite possess ability to the hold up the ball as a lone striker. But he is quicker in short bursts than Drogba and possesses a bit more technical ability, which should appeal to Conte, especially if he opts for a two-striker system, which it appears he is leaning towards playing.
The main man to lead the line is still Diego Costa, at least for the time being, but there are a few questions that Costa will have to answer this season. Costa appeared for preseason training looking much more fit than last season, where he readily admitted that he was unprepared physically for the start of the year.
A bit more concerning was the drop off in his play last season compared to his production in the title-winning season of 2014-2015. You can attribute some of that to his early season fitness problems, but throughout the campaign, it seemed as though he was easily distracted and prone to focusing more on aggravating the opposition than getting in to goal-scoring positions. While that side of his game has always been present and sometimes necessary for him to be at his best, it is something that needs to be controlled a bit better, particularly with the emphasis the Premier League is putting on dissent and various aggressive behaviour towards officials.
Beyond Costa and Batshuayi, it’s a bit unclear as to how the rest of the strike force will round out. Bertrand Traore looked good in that position last season and will likely provide cover at striker, rather than playing outside as a right winger. The other question is what Conte has planned for Eden Hazard. Hazard has traditionally been deployed on the left, but his work rate has always been questioned over 90 minutes, and that may not suit Conte’s style of play which emphasizes work rate, and the suggestion that he may deploy a more traditional 4-4-2 to start the season.
Hazard is perfectly capable of being deployed as a partner to a main striker, most likely in more of a number 10 role, and it would absolve him of some defensive responsibilities, but the question is whether or not Conte sees him in that position. With Hazard just joining the squad after Euros, we’ll see what Conte has in store for him.
If Hazard is considered a wide midfielder and not a striker, another player will most likely be needed, especially if Remy is to depart. Names being suggested are a return for Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata, but with the prices quoted, they may not represent value in the market.
Lukaku, especially, did not have a good Euros, and having also performed poorly in the 2014 World Cup, there are question marks over whether he’s ready for the big European stage. It won’t be a factor for next season, but as a long-term investment, it is something to consider.
Morata is more of the type of player that would suit the system. He possesses good height, but he’s not really a player that uses that height in the air, rather he played his best at Juventus in a two-striker system where he could use his movement and technical ability to score goals. However, with Real Madrid wanting possibly £70 million-plus for his services, he may be out of reach, though it might be closer to the going rate since Gonzalo Higuain may be moving to Juventus for £79 million.
With almost a full squad travelling to the U.S. for friendlies, the next few weeks will give us a better indication of how Conte views his depth at striker. But on the surface, it appears that another player will be needed, unless position changes are made or no one leaves in this transfer window.