Chelsea are set to have a big summer of spending following a year without a signing, due to their transfer ban. They have already made attacking reinforcements with more expected to follow. However, it is at the back that supporters will be hoping for improvements. According to the Times, West Ham United value defensive target Declan Rice at £80 million. The Hammers have already rejected a player swap deal involving Michy Batshuayi and Ross Barkley.
It is important that their defence improves next season, as they conceded 54 times in the Premier League, more than any other side in the top ten. For a team with title ambitions, that is simply not good enough. Our analysis into their defensive issues showed their underlying metrics were comparable to Liverpool. However, Kepa Arrizabalaga performed poorly and the changing of centre backs led to a lack of understanding in defence.
A goalkeeper should be the biggest priority, as Kepa is simply not good enough for a title challenging side. In defence, Chelsea have some good options, but none of them played more than 70% of Premier League minutes. Kurt Zouma featured most, with the Frenchman being on the pitch for 68.5% of minutes. Lampard clearly has a lack of faith in his current options and wants to build his defence around Rice.
On paper, it is clear to see why Rice has been targeted. The current West Ham player is a boyhood Chelsea fan, who was once part of their academy. He is very close with Mason Mount and would immediately fit in with the young English core at the club. The 21-year-old has the potential to be a very good player, while he would offer versatility in the squad. During the recent season, he started every Premier League match for the Hammers. This shows an impressive level of fitness, which other defensive options at Stamford Bridge lack.
During the recent season, he was one of the standout players for West Ham with an impressive consistency in performance. Rice showed himself to be a very good ball winner with 5.1 ball recoveries and 1.4 successful aerial duels per game. He does well in all defensive aspects of the game, while his pass success rate of 86% shows an intelligence in possession. This is important, as Chelsea will look to play out from the back.
The main worry for Chelsea supporters should Rice arrive is that he isn’t a centre-back. He has played there, but the majority of his game-time as a professional has come in midfield. Last season, he started just once at centre-back. This came against Wolves following the restart and West Ham lost 2-0. It was a steady performance from the 21-year-old, with his positioning and reading of the game showing an ability to play the role. That said, it is a small sample size and he would need time to fully adapt to the position.
In an interview with TalkSPORT, David Moyes stated that Rice was the best centre-back and best midfielder at the club. There seems to be a general agreement in the game that he can go on to do well in the heart of a defence, but it still seems a huge gamble for Chelsea, especially at the reported price of £80 million.
For context, Manchester United signed Harry Maguire for the same fee just 12 months ago. Although many saw the fee as too high, he was a proven Premier League centre back with international experience in the position. Like Rice, the fee was been pushed up due to his homegrown status. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could have found better value, but at least Maguire had plenty of experience in the role he was signed to play. Rice doesn’t have that.
If Chelsea were looking to sign a player to operate at the base of midfield, Rice would be a great option. He could move back into defence when the team are attacking to form a back three and allow the full-backs to push on. However, as a centre-back, the signing would be too risky for the huge fee being reported. Chelsea would be better served signing a player who has more experience in the role at a higher level.