It could be a case of one legend out and another back in as Chelsea finalize their squad for the upcoming season.
With Frank Lampard completing a long-anticipated free transfer to New York City FC after his 11 years at Stamford Bridge came to an end when his contract expired at the end of last month, reports suggest that 36-year-old Didier Drogba is being lined up to return to the club he left in 2012.
After a busy summer of activity, that could well be the last business José Mourinho does in his efforts to ensure his second season back at the club does not end trophy-less like his first.
Here’s how the squad is shaping up.
After being openly critical of his forward options for much of last season, Mourinho will have no excuses following the £32 million capture of Diego Costa. Chelsea desperately lacked a real presence up front in the mold of Drogba in his prime, with Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba all toiling with little success. Mourinho’s tactics, based on direct counter-attacking, require a striker who can occupy defenders physically and make something happen single-handedly. Costa showed he has the ability to do that when playing under a similar system at Atletico Madrid. Providing he is able to return to full fitness following an injury-plagued end to last season, the Brazilian-born Spain international should provide a major boost.
Costa’s former Atletico teammate Filipe Luis should also offer an upgrade. The now departed Ashley Cole had lost the physical capacity to get forward effectively meaning Mourinho favored Cesar Azpilicueta for much of last season. The Spaniard did an admirable job, but the fact that the right-footer wasn’t playing on his natural side meant that he also offered little in the opposition half. When Chelsea dropped crucial points in the Premier League to clubs nearer the bottom than the top of the table, it was because they were all too easy to stop and lacked natural width coming from deep. Luis is hardly Roberto Carlos, but offers more than Azpilicueta on the ball.
The other major transfer acquisition is more of a question mark. Cesc Fàbregas is undoubtedly a quality player and, despite his upbringing, is arguably more suited to the Premier League than La Liga, where he has spent the past three years with Barcelona. Yet, it remains to be seen how he will fit into Mourinho’s system. He is seen as a replacement for Lampard, but that is only true if considering the Lampard of Mourinho’s first spell, not the deeper-lying version of last season. Fabregas arguably lacks the positional discipline to play in a two-man central midfield under Mourinho, yet Oscar now occupies the most advanced central midfield role.
While not strictly a new signing, Thibaut Courtois essentially falls into that category. After three years on loan at Atletico Madrid since signing for Chelsea, the young Belgian is now ready to make his mark at Stamford Bridge. Given that he is established himself as not the just the world’s best young goalkeeper, but one of the world’s best, period, it is curious that Petr Cech remains at the club. With Courtois having surpassed the 32-year-old, Mourinho will have to manage the situation delicately should Cech remain.
Having secured £37 million for Juan Mata form Manchester United in January, Chelsea have again done superbly to recoup a huge transfer fee for a player that Mourinho was keen to discard by persuading Paris Saint-Germain to pay more than £40 million for David Luiz. While a fine player, Luiz was always going to lack the discipline to earn the trust of Mourinho. The loss of a stalwart like Lampard represents an emotional blow, but the 36-year-old was having little influence on matches of late. It is a similar case for Ashley Cole, whose waning physical capacity meant he could no longer get up and down the left touchline as he once did. Little will be missed on the pitch with the exit of Ba, who never looked up to the standard required at Chelsea.
What They Still Need
Despite the arrival of Fabregas, Chelsea still arguably need a more dynamic all-round midfield for the type of role that Michael Essien performed with such vigor in Mourinho’s first spell. The signing of Nemanja Matic in January provided a significant boost, but neither John Mikel Obi nor Ramires offer enough to accompany their graft alongside him.
It remains to be seen how much Marco van Ginkel will be able to contribute after a debut season wrecked by injury, while next season Mourinho won’t be able to utilize Luiz in midfield. The Brazilian’s departure may yet lead Chelsea to go back into the market for a central defender, depending on Mourinho’s willingness to depend on new young arrival Kurt Zouma.
While Costa has been signed to fill the void up front, doubts remain about the strikers remaining. It appears Mourinho would certainly be open to allowing both Romelu Lukaku and Fernando Torres to exit. If that was the case then replacements will be needed. Even if Drogba returns, another option may be needed.
Yet, overall, Chelsea’s transfer window has been a success and most of the pieces are in place for the Blues to improve on a third place Premier League finish last season.