This is the third of a series of four articles coming to you, in which I will focus on this season’s top 4 finishers of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. I will highlight the 5 positions these teams need to strengthen over the summer to improve their chances of being crowned Premier League champions this time next year. Today, Chelsea will be the team put under the microscope.
With The Blues deservedly securing their first title since 2010 and the club’s fourth in the last ten years, the celebrations are now in full swing among the Blues fans in West London. However in Jose Mourinho’s own words, the title celebrations lasted only 5 minutes, as his focus immediately turns to the next season. It’s rather hard to believe his feeling of being a league champion, which he has craved for 3 years now, lasted only 5 minutes. However Mourinho likes to stay one step ahead of everybody else and he has already declared a campaign to win back-to-back titles, something he managed in his first stint at the club. However next year, the task ahead of Chelsea to maintain their crown is supposed to be much more difficult as Manchester United and Arsenal are expected to give the Blues a bigger fight for the title.
This season Mourinho’s men have charged to the title in rather emphatic fashion, topping the table since the end of August and never letting go, although being tied on points and goal difference with Manchester City on New Year’s Day. Despite their supremacy, I do not believe they are as outstanding as they could have been, which also goes down to the fact their competition has been relatively poor compared to past seasons. One big reason Chelsea have walked away with the title this season have been Mourinho’s signings. He was the only manager to fully analyse his team’s weaknesses, which cost them the title last season, and strengthen exactly where the team needed over last summer. Fast forward one year and here we are, congratulating Chelsea to the newest trophy in their collection. Now the Special One will look to emulate his successful business last summer and turn Chelsea into a dominant force in England and Europe. Here are five positions and players that would help him in that goal and turn Chelsea into a driving force.
Best option: Antoine Griezmann
Other option(s): Marco Reus, Gareth Bale, Xherdan Shaqiri
The right wing position is perhaps the biggest weakness in Mourinho’s current team. Though this position has been dominated by Willian who has been very impressive, the Brazilian’s offensive contributions in the league stop at 2 goals and 3 assists. Compare that to the other wing where Eden Hazard gathered 14 goals with 9 assists and we can immediately see how unbalanced the two flanks are. Furthermore there is the question what would happen if Eden Hazard sustained an injury? Chelsea already tried to fix this problem in January with the signing of Juan Cuadrado, however that signing has so far backfired dramatically. The Colombian has registered 0 goals and assists with just 6 chances created. He has often been substituted at half time following his poor performances and never seems confident with a poor first touch, poor passing and positioning and he is too easily muscled off the ball. Personally I have never backed Cuadrado to succeed at Chelsea or in the Premier League and unless he improves dramatically in pre-season, Mourinho could look to cut the losses while other clubs are still interested in the 27 year old.
There are some great options available out there that would walk straight into that right wing position at Chelsea. Normally, Marco Reus would be topping this list however his most recent injury record is a bit of a concern and he would represent a risk for anyone, but take nothing away from his footballing ability. Antoine Griezmann seems to be the most feasible option given Chelsea’s links with Atletico and his versatility would allow him to play anywhere across the front three and even as a number. The same applies to both Reus and Bale, though they are much less comfortable in a striker role. Xherdan Shaqiri would represent a much cheaper option than either of the previous three, however he would not necessarily be a significant upgrade to Willian.
As far as statistics go, Griezmann has lead the way with goals scored at 22, Bale was second with 13 followed by Reus who scored just 7. Gareth Bale, despite coming under heavy scrutiny at Real Madrid managed 9 assists and leads the way ahead of Reus who had 5. The German leads the way in chances created and key passes by some way with 2.45 and 2.2 respectively with Shaqiri in second with 1.93 and 1.8 and Bale at 1.58 and 1.29. Gareth Bale then leads the way with shots per game (3.32), followed closely by Reus (3.25) and Griezmann (2.11). Bale also successfully completed the most take-ons per game with 2.1, with Reus behind again at 1.85. Shaqiri has been the most successful dribbler of the four at Inter nearing almost a 70% success rate. He is followed by Bale (54.6%) and Reus (52.8). Though Griezmann doesn’t appear the best option statistically, he comes at a much lower price than Gareth Bale and without the recent injury problems of Marco Reus.
Best option: Alexandre Lacazette
Other option(s): Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gonzalo Higuain, Christian Benteke
Another position Mourinho will definitely need to strengthen over the summer is up front. Diego Costa has been a revelation for Chelsea, however his weak hamstring remains a problem as it was at Atletico. In his absence, Loic Remy was an adequate replacement netting a goal on average 0.91 times of every 90 minutes he has played. However the Frenchman got injured whenever he was expected to step up for Costa, which left Chelsea relying on a 37 year old Drogbamore often than they would have liked. With his departure, Mourinho will look to reinforce his striking options. Ideally he would look at someone who would offer Chelsea something different to Costa and would be okay with a backup role, but at the same time ready to come in and lead the line whenever Costa is injured or suspended.
By far the best option would be Alexandre Lacazette, the Frenchman had an outstanding season for Lyon and nearly fired them to the Ligue 1 title with 27 goals in 33 games. At 24, he is ready for a move to a bigger club and would offer great pace with a devastating combination of quick feet, great movement and deadly finishing. Other options at Mourinho’s hands are Radamel Falcao, who is rumored to have already made a loan move to reunite with his former Atletico partner. Another option is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has great respect for Mourinho from their time together at Inter. Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain could be another possibility as is Christian Benteke from Aston Villa.
Statistically, Lacazette and Ibrahimovic top the charts for goals scored with 0.85 goals per game each, followed by Higuain, who comes third with an average of 0.58 goals. Quite surprisingly, Radamel Falcao has the highest assist per game ratio to his name with 0.28, with Ibrahimovic at 0.27, Higuain at 0.26 and Lacazette at 0.19. The Frenchman has created the most chances (1.71) for his teammates and also made the most key passes (1.52). Ibrahimovic doesn’t stay far behind with 1.62 and 1.35 respectively, followed by Higuain at 1.56 and 1.30. The Swede has averaged the most shots per game with 4.04, with Higuain at 3.73 and Lacazette and Benteke averaging 3.04 and 3.03 respectively. Lacazette is by far the best dribbler, completing 2.09 dribles at a rate of 57.89%. Closest behind him is Ibrahimovic, with the Swede completing 1.26 take-ons with a success rate of 56%.
Best option: Paul Pogba
Other option(s): Koke, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Blaise Matuidi
Central midfield is a position where Mourinho currently has the duo of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic available with Ramires and John Obi Mikel as backups. Fabregas has proven to be a great addition to the Chelsea team, forming a great partnership with his fellow “Spaniard” Diego Costa. However Fabregas has a rather obvious weakness to his game – his defensive abilities. This weakness became particularly obvious when Chelsea faced the best teams in the league and also against PSG in the Champions League, where Fabregas has allowed others more physical and faster midfielders to dominate him. Ramires often took the side of Matic with the Spaniard being pushed forward into Oscar’s role. However on such occasions, Ramires has offered little going forward, having created on average only 0.8 chances per game with 0.48 key passes, though he has managed 4 assists. This is the position Mourinho should look to reinforce by recruiting a powerful box to box midfielder who can win a duel as well as contribute offensively to the team.
The obvious first choice to fit this bill would be Paul Pogba, the 23 year old combines great physical presence with wonderful technique and a fierce strike and would present a great addition to just about any team, however he comes at the price tag of at least £55 million. Koke is a player Mourinho seems to admire a lot, having tried to sign him last summer. The Spaniard was wanted to replace Xavi at Barcelona as he combines great vision and passing with a fighting mentality Diego Simeone requires from all his players, quite similarly to Mourinho. Bastian Schweinsteiger might be a surprising name here, however he would surely also be a great addition to Chelsea. With Drogba’s experience now gone, Mourinho would like to bring in a similarly experienced player and few are better options than Schweinsteiger, the World Cup, Champions League and eight times Bundesliga Champion, who is out of contract next summer and would be available for a bargain £10 million. Another option is Morgan Schneiderlin who has been outstanding for Southampton and is almost certain to movethis summer. The combination of the Frenchman and Matic would create an almost impenetrable wall ahead of Chelsea’s back four. The last midfielder on the list is Blaise Matuidi from PSG, who would represent the most like-for-like swap with Ramires having great pace and stamina, but would add a lot more offensively than the Brazilian.
Statistically, Pogba, who scored 8 goals this season, leads the way with goals per game at 0.34, ahead of Schweinsteiger (0.33) and Schneiderlin with Matuidi who are tiedat (0.16). Koke may be behind in goals scored, but he leads inassists (0.31) and chances created (2) ahead of the Bayern Munich midfielder (0.26 and 1.98). The German also gives the most key passes (1.71), with Koke trailing at 1.69 and Pogba at 1.45. Schweinsteiger has also won the most duels (2.51) which is evidence of his combative mentality which peaked at last summer’s World Cup final. Pogba’s physical build helps him achieve the highest success rate of duels won at 63.16%, followed by Matuidi (55.22) and Schweinsteiger (51.35%). Schneiderlin has been the most successful in the defensive disciplines having registered 3.25 tackles per game compared to Koke’s 2.22, Matuidi’s 1.98 and Pogba’s 1.92. The Southampton man also leads the way with 2.59 interceptions with Schweinsteiger (1.85) and Matuidi (1.73) just behind.
Best Option: Robert Green
Other Option(s): Kasper Schmeichel, Jack Butland, Asmir Begovic
With Chelsea legend Petr Cech edging close to a move across London to Arsenal for more playing time, Jose Mourinho will be on the lookout for a backup goalkeeper to replace the Czech International he has once brought to West London. The trouble is finding a player who will accept sitting on the bench and receive very few play time. Mark Schwarzer was such a player, but he has now moved to Leicester City.
Mourinho can still turn to a few options however,in particular Robert Green, who has shown he still has it this season at QPR having made the most saves in theleague. With QPR relegated and Green aged 35, he may very well accept his position behind Thibaut Courtois with the reigning champions. Another big advantage is Green’s low price and the fact he is a homegrown England international. Schmeichel and Butland also happen to be homegrown players, though the former is Danish, though their arrival at Chelsea seems a lot less likely given Leicester’s survival in the Premier League and the Dane’s status at the club and Butland’s age, at which being but abackup to Courtois isn’t ideal for his development and growth. The last player on this list is Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic, who is also a target for Manchester United to replace the departing David De Gea. However Begovic is at an age where he will hardly accept to be second fiddle, similarly to Cech, and would present a much pricier option than either of the three aforementioned keepers, on top of that, he is not a homegrown player.
Best option: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Other Option(s): Geoffrey Kondogbia, Gianelli Imbula, Marco van Ginkel
With one place in central midfield already on this list, potentially to replace the inconsistent Oscar in the lineup, and Ramires with Mikel perhaps on their way out, Mourinho might need one more midfielder as a new backup. This would have to be a player who can make a difference in a game and could slot in any time into the role of Matic, Fabregas, or the new midfield acquisition. One thing Chelsea have suffered from towards the end of the season was the lack of squad rotation, which goes down to the team’s strength in depth, which is the only thing Mourinho really needs to address in this summer’s transfer market, hence a backup central midfield position on this list.
Bastian Schweinsteiger makes an appearance for the second time here, because as much as he fits the bill as a replacement for Oscar in the lineup, at £10 million he would also be a bargain world class backup. Others are Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia, who seems to be edging towards a move to Inter Milan, Gianelli Imbula, who has impressed at Marseille this season and Chelsea’s very own Marco van Ginkel who was tipped for big things at Chelsea last season before a dramatic injury took him out for the season. He then spent this season at AC Milan, where at first he struggled to break into the starting 11 due to other injury setbacks, but broke through in the second half of the season.
A quick glance at the statistics gives us a clear winner in Bastian Schweinsteiger, who dominates in all creative aspects of the game having recorded the most goals (0.33), assists (0.26), chances created (1.98) and key passes (1.71). Second to him is van Ginkel. On top of that, Schweinsteiger also averaged most aerial duels won (2.51), with van Ginkel at 1.85. Kondogbia takes all the remaining categories, showing his more defensive nature. The Monaco midfielder won an impressive 60.8% of his aerial duels and made 2.88 tackles per game, with Imbula at 2.11. Kondogbia also registered 2.69 interceptions, leaving behind Schweinsteiger (1.85) and Van Ginkel (1.77).
It’s very hard to imagine Chelsea strengthening in all of those positions, however a new striker and backup goalkeeper will be a necessity with the possibility of a new right winger and/or central midfielder also arriving at Stamford Bridge in the post-season. Mourinho needs just a few tweaks to his starting 11 and his main priority should be adding strength in depth to the team with some fresh blood and competition to established players. Should Chelsea acquire all aforementioned signings, here is how they could lineup next season, with a certain Ruben Loftus-Cheek lurking to break through into the line-up.