After a rollercoaster maiden campaign at the Chelsea helm, Maurizio Sarri will look to build on his side’s third-place Premier League finish.
Drafted in last summer by Roman Abramovich, the former Napoli manager was tasked with upsetting the Manchester City apple cart and thwarting Pep Guardiola’s domestic stranglehold.
And things started brightly for Sarri, but Chelsea’s early-season form soon fizzled and discernible question marks were raised about his tenure. However, after a slight mid-season resurgence the Blues finished the campaign on a high: placing third and reaching the Europa League final.
Sarri will therefore want to bolster his squad this summer as he looks to put up a more iron-willed title charge, but that may not be possible, as an impending two-window transfer embargo hangs over the club’s head.
An appeal to uplift the ban has already been rejected by FIFA, but the club are exploring the possibility of taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in an effort to have the governing body’s decision overturned.
Should a successful plea materialise, then the Blues will no doubt want flex their financial muscles in the market, and Sarri could be flushed with cash to spend where he sees fit.
However, as things stand the club are currently in limbo, not knowing whether they can sign players. And so, we’ve had a look at five different sources to suggest five possible transfer scenarios the club are expected to encounter. But who are the sources, and what did they have to say? Read on to find out!
1. What the manager wants
Sarri wasn’t quite able to cater to Chelsea’s thirst for domestic success in 2018/19 as Liverpool and Man City dominated Premier League proceedings, creating a massive gap between themselves and the rest of the ‘Big Six’.
And that gulf will only widen if Chelsea are not able to recruit, with Sarri admitting his side will “need something from the market” if they are to close the gap.
He said: “It’s very difficult to cover the gap, at the moment. We need to work. Probably we’d need something from the market. So it’s not easy because the level of the top two is very, very high.
“I don’t believe in buying 10 players. I think we have to buy only one or two players. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to improve immediately. I think we are a very good team, and so we need only one or two players, no more.
“And, as we can see in Europe, it’s not easy. We have to work and we have to try, of course. In my opinion, we can reduce the gap.”
2. A view from the press box
BBC Sport’s transfer guru David Ornstein has predicted a turbulent summer for Chelsea, with suggestions the Court of Arbitration for Sport may not rule on the Blues’ appeal until July – right in the middle of the window – leaving the club in a pretty perilous and precarious position.
Should the ban withstand, however, Chelsea will refuse to sanction Eden Hazard’s potential move to Real Madrid, while the club will also trigger an option to extend Olivier Giroud’s contract by a year, as well as affording Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi significant playing time next term.
A loophole in the clauses of loanees Gonzalo Higuain and Mateo Kovacic could also see them make their temporary stints permanent, which the club will consider if the embargo remains intact.
If the ban is lifted, the Evening Standard has linked the club with Lille’s prodigiously-talented winger Nicolas Pepe, who is set to leave Les Dogues this summer after manager Christophe Galtier confirmed his departure.
“Nicolas Pepe will leave. Life’s like that, football’s like that today,” he told Canal+.
“He is a player of the highest level who will have a big decision to make on the choice of his next club. There will be a battle between the great European teams.
“I hope that he will take good amount of time to think about it, do his research.”
With 22 Ligue 1 goals and 11 assists to his name this term, the coveted forward, who helped power Lille to a runners-up berth in the French top-flight, has seen his name associated with most of Europe’s top heavyweights.
Should a move to Chelsea come to fruition, it would likely mean that Hazard has secured his “dream” move to Los Blancos, but would the Ivorian be able to remedy the void and follow in the footsteps of his Lille predecessor?
3. An ex-player’s thoughts
Despite the potential of a two-window transfer ban looming, forming Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips believes this could have a positive impact on the club.
The ex-Blue, who won the Premier League title in 2006, has urged Sarri to look at the club’s current crop of starlets out on loan as potential potions to the forthcoming transfer ailment.
With the likes of Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James enjoying productive loan spells, Wright-Phillips believes Chelsea could unearth “England’s next superstar” if Sarri looks from within.
He said: “I don’t think the ban will hinder them that much – we’re forgetting that they have something like 40 players out on loan.
“Of course not all of them are worthy of a place in the Chelsea side, but there’s a lot of people with the potential and this could be the start of somebody’s career by bringing them back and giving them a run in the team, and maybe even the next England superstar, or French or Belgian superstar on our hands.”
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4. The neutral’s tip
Sky Sports pundit and former England striker Alan Smith is not expecting major changes at Chelsea if Hazard leaves, instead believing Sarri will look to bed in Callum Hudson-Odoi – who recently ruptured his Achilles tendon – and Christian Pulisic.
He said: “Much will depend on whether Hazard goes and they have the transfer ban. I wouldn’t imagine they would be looking to replace Hazard directly as they have Callum Hudson-Odoi coming back and Christian Pulisic joining already.”
Smith then turned his attention to further up the field, believing the No. 9 role is where Chelsea really need to add quality, with Abraham his choice to lead the charge.
He added: “The centre-forward position is the area I think. I don’t think Gonzalo Higuain is the answer, he is not mobile enough, and Maurizio Sarri doesn’t seem to have much faith in Olivier Giroud.
“Of course if they can’t make any transfers they will have to bring players back who are on loan. What will happen with Tammy Abraham? That could be an interesting one.
“There’s talk about Aston Villa wanting to sign him if they go up but Chelsea might want to see if he can do it back at Stamford Bridge and he has probably earned his chance.”
5. Squawka predicts
It’s, of course, impossible to predict Chelsea’s transfer window without yet knowing their fate, but if the ban were to be hypothetically uplifted, what can they expect?
Alvaro Morata has already stated his intentions to remain at Atletico Madrid and Hazard will likely join him in the Spanish capital, opening the door for an influx of potential recruits.
One name being bandied about is Real Madrid forward Marco Asensio, who has struggled for consistent playing time at the Bernabeu. Chelsea could look to use the Spaniard as part of a swap-deal involving Hazard, bringing some creativity and panache to Stamford Bridge as a result.
The 23-year-old would almost certainly fall down the pecking order if the Belgian moved to Madrid, not to mention the club have all-but concluded a deal for Eintracht Frankfurt forward Luka Jovic. Zinedine Zidane is also believed to be planning a summer overhaul which could also see a few more Galactico-inspired signings pitch up.
Other names being mentioned are Ajax ace David Neres, valued at £40m, who could receive some under-the-table words of advice from Brazilian compatriot Willian.
Meanwhile Tiemoue Bakayoko is expected back at the club, with AC Milan seemingly reluctant to part with £35m and trigger the Frenchman’s buyout option – with Ruben Loftus-Cheek facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, this could be excellent news for Sarri.
Finally with forward-thinking full-backs integral to Sarri’s system, the Italian could sign Nice right-back Youcef Atal, with the Algerian proving a revelation in Ligue 1 this season. The versatile 22-year-old would offer more of an attacking threat than Cesar Azpilicueta, who could move back to central defence – a la Antonio Conte-style, while he would offer direct competition for 19-year-old Reece James, who flourished on loan at Wigan in 2018/19.
His versatility has also seen him play at left-wing under Patrick Vieira, which could signal the end of under-fire Marcos Alonso.