Having analysed Chelsea’s centre-backs and goalkeepers in this series, I’m now moving on to full-backs. We’ve got plenty of depth, but do we need additions?
Right backs currently on Chelsea’s books: Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, Paulo Ferreira, Wallace, Sam Hutchinson, Tomas Kalas, Kenneth Omeruo, Andreas Christensen, Nortei Nortey, Josh Aina, Samuel Bangura.
Left backs currently on Chelsea’s books: Ashley Cole, Patrick van Aanholt, Ryan Bertrand, Aziz Deen-Conteh, Adam Nditi, Kevin Wright, Ambrose Gnahore, Ronan.
On the face of it, Chelsea don’t seem to have any immediate problems on either side of defence. Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta are probably the best pair of full-backs in Britain. Ryan Bertrand and Branislav Ivanovic are very able deputies that would start for almost any other Premier League team. Patrick van Aanholt, Ronan, Wallace and Tomas Kalas are fantastic young prospects that any team would be glad to have on their books.
And I don’t think there’s any urgent need for more full-backs. Paulo Ferreira’s contract is up at the end of this season, so he is likely to be leaving. If Jose Mourinho arrives, there’s a chance that he might want to keep Paulo, but it’s unlikely. Ferreira can be replaced internally; Tomas Kalas and Kenneth Omeruo have excelled at right back in the Eredivisie this season for Vitesse Arnhem and ADO Den Haag, and have proven themselves to be ready for the rigour of the Premier League. Wallace is a possibility; he’s done well for Fluminense and Brazil U20 this season, but he’s not at the level of Kalas or Omeruo yet. My guess is that Omeruo will stay at Chelsea, Kalas will get a more aggressive loan (West Brom have been rumoured to be interested) and Wallace will go to Vitesse next season.
Azpilicueta, Ivanovic and Omeruo is fine. Azpi will remain our first choice right back, with Ivanovic as his deputy and Omeruo can play in the cups. The ability of both Ivanovic and Omeruo to play in the centre of defence means they should get plenty of minutes, and Omeruo will be eligible for the U21s if he struggles for game-time.
There’s no apparent necessity for right backs in the future, either. Ivanovic is under contract to 2016, Azpi and Omeruo to 2017 and Wallace to 2018. Tomas Kalas’s contract expires at the end of next season, but I fully expect him to get an extension this summer before heading off on loan. Andreas Christensen, although primarily a centre-back, has been exceptional on the right in recent weeks, and I think the 16-year-old is one to look out for in the future. He’ll only be 20 when Ivanovic’s contract expires, and could realistically take his role of versatile centre/right back at Chelsea. So could Kalas and Omeruo, for that matter. What a lovely problem to have.
Of Chelsea’s other young right backs, only Josh Aina seems to have the potential to ever make the Chelsea first team squad. Samuel Bangura has a long, long way to go, and despite having possibly the funniest name in football, Nortei Nortey is in a similar situation. I’d expect both Bangura and Nortey to be released at some point. As for Sam Hutchinson, injuries have blighted his career to the extent that I sadly can’t see him ever fulfilling the promise he showed in his late teens, and he could well be released when his contract expires at the end of this season.
On the left, Chelsea are in a similarly pleasant situation of having an outstanding full-back, in Ashley Cole, with several very able, young deputies. Ryan Bertrand is a respectable Premier League left back, despite not having a great season this year. Meanwhile, Patrick van Aanholt has been exceptional on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, showing much more attacking threat than either Bertrand or Cole, and his previously shaky defensive work has dramatically improved. Those three are comfortably Chelsea’s best three left backs, and they’re a good blend of youth and experience.
With Ashley Cole’s new contract expiring at the end of next season, it looks like he will be seeing reduced minutes at Chelsea in 2013-14, and it will be a straight fight between van Aanholt and Bertrand to replace him. At the moment, I’m quite confident that PvA will win the battle. Defensively they’re more or less equal, but van Aanholt is much better in attack. He’s faster, has more flair, is better at crossing and is younger than Bertrand.
If one of the two shows the required ability to be Chelsea’s No.1left back to replace Ashley Cole, the logical step is to retain both, have one as the regular in the first team (probably van Aanholt) and one as his deputy (probably Bertrand). This would be the ideal scenario. However, if neither Bertrand nor van Aanholt can prove themselves to be ready to replace Ashley Cole, we’ll most likely have to dip into the transfer market, because I can’t imagine Chelsea keeping Ashley Cole until he’s 34. There’s been some speculation about Chelsea signing a new left back, especially Luke Shaw and Leighton Baines.
Luke Shaw is my personal preference; he’s been linked with both Chelsea and Arsenal since last summer, but has remained at Southampton and been one of the Saints’s best players this season. When Danny Fox was struck by injury early in the season, Shaw got his chance and has taken it with both hands. In his 23 Southampton appearances this season, Shaw has shown some blistering pace, accurate crossing, solid defence and a composure and maturity that belies his young age (he’ll still be only 18 when Cole’s contract expires). Southampton will want to keep Shaw and he won’t come cheap, but Shaw is a self-proclaimed Chelsea fan, which would work in our favour, and a bid of £10m should be enough. Which would be an excellent deal for Chelsea.
Leighton Baines would be a different sort of purchase; he is very much the finished article rather than a rough gem, eleven years older than Shaw. He’s been one of Everton’s stand-out performers this season, along with Fellaini, and he wouldn’t be too expensive. 7 goals and 7 assists this season is a phenomenal tally for a left back, even if he is the primary set-piece taker. Nevertheless, Baines would be more of a stop-gap until an adequate replacement is found, rather than a long-term solution. This goes totally against Chelsea’s recent transfer policy, so I think it is only a realistic possibility if David Moyes takes over as Chelsea manager.
Alternatively, we could try to get the very best. Jordi Alba and Marcelo are probably the two best, but they aren’t exactly available. Beyond them, David Alaba and Fabio Coentrao are outstanding players, already on a similar level to Cole, and have the advantage of being able to play in the pivot. Alaba would be the dream purchase, at 20 years old he is one of the world’s finest in his position. He would be hard to lure, and very expensive, but would be absolutely perfect. When Cole departs at the end of next season, Alaba will only have a year left on his contract, so Bayern might be tempted to cash in. Coentrao would be similar; not as young, considerably easier to get but similarly talented and versatile. If Mourinho is Chelsea’s next manager, don’t be surprised to see Coentrao follow him.
Chelsea do have plenty of young left backs, but only Ronan, whom Chelsea only own 40% of, looks like he has the potential to be good enough for Chelsea. Kevin Wright and Adam Nditi have done well for the U21s and U18s, but both have their work cut out to ever make the first team, meanwhile Deen-Conteh and Gnahore look like they may fall by the wayside.
Verdict: No additions this summer, possibly buy a left-back in summer 2014. Luke Shaw or David Alaba would be ideal.