Fifth place and thirty points behind albeit runaway champions Manchester City is a far cry from Chelsea’s Premier League triumph but a year ago.
The hand dealt Antonio Conte in what must be said to be two haphazard transfer windows since the Blues’ fifth Premier League title begs the question who sourced, and ultimately ratified the calamitous signings of Alvaro Morata, Danny Drinkwater, and Ross Barkley – totalling wastage of over £100 million. Antonio Ruediger and Oliver Giroud, the latter costing a quarter of that splashed out on Morata, represent rare highlights from a period in Chelsea’s recruitment history it will be keen to forget.
While hindsight is a many a splendid thing, an alternative scenario of Giroud being brought in last summer instead of the January window, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek (and the Manchester-bound Nemanja Matic) retained rather than farmed out to Crystal Palace – a stint that has earned the 22-year-old a seat on the plane to Russia – would have prevented close to £90 million being blown on Morata and Drinkwater. The reality though still remains that neither Morata nor Giroud represent a like for like replacement for Diego Costa, the player whose boots are seemingly impossible to fill. With Morata rumoured to be heading back to the old country or to his former Juventus stomping ground, Robert Lewandowski would seem to be the next cab off the rank in West London, although his recent performances for Bayern in the Champions’ League semi-finals brought into question the big-match credentials of the 29-year-old Pole, a player perhaps too accustomed to coasting in a domestically all-conquering Munich side.
Retaining Willian and Eden Hazard are absolutely critical to Chelsea; with Roman Abramovich’s long-term commitment to the West Londoners’ again being questioned, not to mention there being no guarantee the oligarch’s visa will be renewed by the UK authorities, it will require positive signals from the Russian to both players regarding future signings, and perhaps most importantly that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated, for the inevitable overtures from domestic and foreign suitors to be rebuffed. Chelsea are though prone to high-profile mistakes born from impatience and a desire for instance success, involving several players who have flourished away from Stamford Bridge. Mo Salah, Kevin de Bruyne, Juan Cuadrado, Romelu Lukaku, anyone?