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Chelsea transfer window priorities: As Lukaku and Pulisic dangle, what should Tuchel spend that £200M on?



Pulisic out? A different USMNT player in? And what about all those center backs?

The sale is done, official, announced. Having paid a reported £4.25 billion, Todd Boehly’s Clearlake consortium are at the wheel now for Chelsea Football Club. With the 2021 Champions League title in the rear-view and a 2021-22 season that featured only two lesser trophies and wild storylines surrounding the club all season, Chelsea can get back to business as usual. Or at least redefine it, as the “Chaos and Trophies” era of Roman Abramovich’s stewardship has come to an end.

What will Boehly bring to the table? Well, £200 million pounds, according to The Telegraph. That kind of spending power is hardly unusual for Chelsea, but the trust being placed at the manager’s hands is a bit rarer for this club. Tuchel entered in the middle of the 2020-21 campaign, then his first summer’s only substantial addition was Romelu Lukaku, so he’s overdue to begin shaping this roster.

And it’s necessary. Three or four defenders could leave Chelsea on free or cheap transfers, and the attack is loaded with disgruntled forwards who didn’t produce enough on the pitch last season. Lukaku is chief among them, and the rumors already are swirling about his future after a mess of a Year 1 back at Stamford Bridge. Here, we break down the Chelsea senior men’s roster and try to figure out what is going to happen this summer and what is not:

Chelsea goalkeeper outlook

  • Staying: Edouard Mendy, Marcus Bettinelli
  • Uncertain future: Kepa Arrizabalaga
  • Loan army options: Nathan Baxter, Jamie Cumming

Start with the simple position: Mendy is one of the best in the world, Bettinelli is a serviceable third keeper, Kepa is the most overpriced cup/backup keeper in the world. It’s not clear anyone would take on Kepa’s salary, but expect Chelsea and the Spanish keeper to work together to find a landing spot if one exists.

Ideal moves: If you sell Kepa, you probably need a better No. 2 than Bettinelli. It doesn’t appear Baxter or Cumming are ready for that role quite yet, and with Mendy hoping to lead a deep Senegal run at this fall’s World Cup, this could be an important role for Chelsea to address. But until Kepa is dealt, there’s nothing to be done.

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Chelsea center back outlook

  • Staying: Thiago Silva, Trevoh Chalobah, Malang Sarr
  • Leaving: Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen
  • Uncertain future: Cesar Azpilicueta
  • Loan army option: Levi Colwill, Ethan Ampadu

Chelsea made a mistake allowing their top four center backs to enter 2021-22 in the final years of their contracts. Thiago Silva and Azpilicueta signed extensions, and academy product Chalobah seemed to beat out Christensen pretty cleanly for a top spot, but the losses (with Azpilicueta’s future up in the air still) hurt.

What’s needed is two center backs that the team can build around for the future and start in the present. Colwill likely isn’t ready to jump to the senior team yet, and Thiago Silva is potentially in his last year. Because Chelsea play out of the back and use three CBs, at least two (but probably all three) at any time need to be able to carry the ball forward and make progressive passes as a key function, which Chalobah and Colwill (likely one loan away from Chelsea senior squad) both can do.

Ideal moves: Sevilla’s Jules Kounde and RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol are reported to be at or near the top of Tuchel’s wish list, and their statistical and scouting profiles add up. Kounde is so skilled he can even play full back, while Gvardiol is a left-footed player who has enough size to be of some help in the air while dominating on the ground. This is the position where Boehly’s money should be used, the one that will determine next season and beyond.

Chelsea wing back outlook

  • Returning: Reece James, Ben Chilwell
  • Uncertain future: Marcos Alonso
  • Loan army option: Emerson Palmeiri

When healthy last season, James and Chilwell looked like the best outside backs duo in the world. James continued that form, while Chilwell went down with a knee ligament tear. But Chilwell returned for a cameo in the final match of the season, seemingly telling the world he’d be back. Marcos Alonso, meanwhile, likely won’t be, as he looks to return to Spain this offseason. Palmeiri is a nice left-sided option, and Chelsea have played a few non-traditional players at right wing back under Tuchel as well.

That said, the offseason goal should be to find a player who can help in these wide positions on either side and either end of the field. Two-sided full backs are a growing trend at the top levels of the sport, with Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo being the best example. The tactical versatility of a player like that would be great and help if Chilwell isn’t fully fit by the end of the summer.

Before moving on, let’s be explicit: James is under contract until 2025. He’s a Londoner who joined Chelsea at age 7. His sister plays for the club. Chelsea have sold two rising right backs (Tino Livramento and Tariq Lamptey) from the academy to clear minutes for him, and they handed him the reins as starter at 20 and shifted their team captain (Azpilicueta)’s position to accommodate. Letting Reece James transfer would be an absurd move of both PR and football management for a new ownership group. But let the whispers continue.

Ideal moves: The sexy option here would be Barcelona’s and USMNT’s Serginho Dest, a right-footer who looks his best playing wing back rather than full back and has shown aptitude on both sides. Would Barca consider a swap as part of their pursuits of Marcos Alonso or Azpilicueta? A more tested dual-sided full back would be Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters.

Chelsea midfield outlook

  • Returning: N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek
  • Leaving: Saúl Niguez
  • Uncertain futures: Jorginho, Ross Barkley
  • Loan army options: Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour

Central midfield was a massive problem this season because of injuries. The club entered the season thinking it had three excellent choices, but Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic all missed time. Loftus-Cheek outplayed most expectations and suddenly looks like a viable role player for the future, but his biggest asset is versatility.

Factor in that Kante and Jorginho are on the wrong side of 30 and free agents after next season, and the move here is to find a player to build up with alongside Kovacic. But that player could easily be Gallagher, who was fantastic for Crystal Palace on loan this season, or Gilmour, who has plenty of senior minutes for Chelsea in showing potential in a similar role to Jorginho.

The core question, then, is will this be the season Chelsea break out the big bucks on central midfield? With those two returning and it being presumed that at least Kante and Kovacic, if not Jorginho as well, will be back for next season, don’t be surprised if the Declan Rice discourse has another year of life.

Ideal moves: Call back Gallagher either way and Gilmour if Jorginho leaves. Let them battle for playing time and keep Kante as fresh as possible for big matches. Circle back to Rice next season.

Chelsea attack outlook

  • Returning: Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi
  • Uncertain futures: Christian Pulisic, Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech
  • Loan army option: Armando Broja

What a mess. Mount’s breakout season came almost by necessity because he was the only Chelsea forward who actually had a good year. Havertz showed his massive upside, particularly when he played centrally, while Hudson-Odoi re-injured his Achilles tendon and likely would be a sell-low of an academy graduate.

Everyone else? Up for grabs — if the offer’s right. And it’s tough to say what Chelsea’s offseason forward plan is without knowing the outgoings. A return to Inter Milan seems like the only path to moving Lukaku and his huge price tag, while Werner’s transfer fee might not be huge but his wages are. Ziyech and Pulisic both could draw interest and decent money back for Chelsea, but they also are the two who best combine with Mount and Havertz. There are no simple answers, and the cost of bringing in goal-scorers is worth being cautious about.

Ideal moves: Chelsea’s best bet might be to bring back the majority of this group for another year. Getting Lukaku’s attitude back on track is a key factor, unless they can actually unload him, which still seems unlikely on any terms the club would like. It seems likely that one or two of Pulisic, Ziyech or Werner will leave, and if so, the priority for replacements must be “players who can find the back of the net.” But a player like RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku is going to be simply too expensive, so Chelsea might be smart to go after a veteran who doesn’t expect to start full time like they did with Olivier Giroud in the past.

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