Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has hinted that the club may look to younger players in the transfer window as he tries to build a new generation of players in the squad.
The Blues beat Everton 1-0 in their Premier League opener, keeping at clean sheet to end their Goodison Park hoodoo, but a lot of the focus when the starting XI was released was average age of Chelsea’s back three. Together, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Kalidou Koulibaly had a combined age of 101 and that will increase to 103 by September.
As things stand that will be Chelsea’s first-choice back three, with Azpilicueta recently signing a new two-year deal amid links of a departure to Barcelona, while Koulibaly is one of the new arrivals at Chelsea. Signed from Napoli for £33.8m, Koulibaly was a key addition for Chelsea this summer, helping to replace Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen who left for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.
Koulibaly made his official debut against Everton and thrived, winning three aerial duels, making two tackles and one last-man tackle as well as one interception. The Senegalese centre-back is a fine signing and Chelsea fans will be hoping he follows in the footsteps of Silva, who continues to perform at the highest level despite being just over a month away from 38.
However, Tuchel is wary. While the Azpilicueta, Koulibaly and Silva are still top class, Chelsea do need to start looking to the future to ensure they have players to step in when the trio either retire or have to play reduced minutes due to age – already Silva cannot be expected to play every game and was often rested in midweek matches when possible last season.
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And Chelsea’s age problem is not limited to the centre-backs, though that is the first place a lot of minds went, especially with the club linked with a move for Leicester City’s Wesley Fofana.
“Azpi is the legend that he is, Thiago is in the moment still very important to us and when we had the chance to sign Kalidou we did it because we believe that he has some years ahead of him,” Tuchel told reporters after Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Everton.
“But in general it is the fact that like the goalkeeper and the double sixes are in their thirties, and that is just what it is. Pace is an issue and speed is an issue. In all signings, this is the demand of the game that you can play one on ones, that you can defend space if needed with high-speed runs.
“It is a lot of experience, it is maybe another of age – it is a lot of experience and they have their quality and they know what they are doing. We also need to make sure we have a new generation to take over in the next years but the guys are strong that is why they are under contract and the guys have our trust.
“There needs to be [balance]. I think it is necessary. The game in general is very physical and demands a lot. This is the situation. We knew it before.”
The new generation Chelsea could look to build their squad around
Chelsea have already signed Gabriel Slonina, an 18-year-old American goalkeeper from Chicago Fire, loaning him back to the MLS club for the remainder of their season. But they perhaps need someone in between 30-year-old Edouard Mendy and Slonina, particularly if Kepa Arrizabalaga is allowed to leave. One goalkeeper to have caught our eye is Wuilker Farinez, who has been quietly impressing at Lens behind a much worse defence than the one currently at Chelsea.
Of course, the name currently being heavily linked with Chelsea is Wesley Fofana, and the Blues seem intent on making him their next defensive signing. Fofana is a defender’s defender, focusing more on preventing goals than creating them and his implementation would free up his centre-back partners to get involved more going forward. Although he is still a good passer.
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The job that still remains for Chelsea is to find a replacement for Rudiger in terms of playing style, with the German international being Tuchel’s point-of-call for bringing the ball out from the back. When there wasn’t a pass on, Rudiger used to drive up the pitch, deceptively quick with his long strides before finding his man with an excellent pass. Olivier Boscagli of PSV has a similar profile to Rudiger and in the Eredivisie last season averaged 0.65 take-ons attempted per 90 minutes and 16.23 final third passes to go with his 2.63 interceptions and 5.35 possessions won in the defensive third.
Or, bold shout here, Chelsea could look to their academy and current squad to find the next generation. The Blues are blessed with a host of talented youngsters including Levi Colwill, who has been sent on loan to Brighton for the season, but one who is ready-made for the Premier League is Trevoh Chalobah who became a regular under Tuchel last season. Why not give him more of a role?
Frenkie de Jong
If Chelsea make two more signings this summer it’s expected to be Fofana and Frenkie de Jong, with the Blues favourites to lure the Dutch midfielder from Barcelona. This season it’s hard to see where he would fit into the Chelsea team, based on the personnel currently in place, but he could revolutionise the way Tuchel sets up his midfield.
Chelsea have needed to sort out a successor to N’Golo Kante for some time, with the Frenchman’s powers waning due to injuries and age – though he is still capable of performing at a top level. One player who has caught our eye as a potential replacement is Jean Onana, who is still at Bordeaux following their relegation from Ligue 1 last season. The 22-year-old was defensively solid for Bordeaux last season despite their problems, averaging 3.41 tackles per 90 minutes and 1.76 interceptions as well as 1.12 take-ons attempted and 12.78 final third passes.
Another bold shout is to use the youth and actually give Conor Gallagher a starting spot. The Englishman thrived in the midfield at Crystal Palace last season but appears set to stay at Stamford Bridge, so why not utilise the momentum he built and his abilities now so he’s ready to replace Jorginho and N’Golo Kante.