Where Chelsea stand – Part 5C – Attack
So Chelsea’s attacking line-up for 2013-14 should look like this: Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar, Kevin De Bruyne, Victor Moses, Demba Ba, Romelu Lukaku (assuming that we don’t sign anyone). I omitted Torres and Marin because I just can’t imagine them wanting to stick around, and we would realistically be best off cashing in. That’s actually not too different from what we’ve got at the moment, with Lukaku and De Bruyne replacing Torres and Marin. That’s certainly an upgrade in quality, and actually a fairly potent attack. But we have seen this season that two strikers just isn’t enough, and we have really felt the absence of Mata and Hazard when one or both of them haven’t played. As I explained, I would also sell Demba Ba, because I don’t think he offers us anything special.
Regardless of whether or not we sell Ba, we will need additions. Torres will have to be replaced, Ba would have to be replaced, and we need one more attacking midfielder. If our signings are direct replacements, fine. If they’re versatile players that can play anywhere across the attack, so much the better.
As the attacking midfielder, if we sign someone to cover for Mata, Hazard and Oscar it will have to be somebody of their ilk. Someone young, with room to develop, and someone who is already Chelsea starting-quality. I analysed two of the best young attacking midfielders in the last part of this series, German wunderkinds Mario Gotze and Julian Draxler of Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. Either of them would be a brilliant purchase for a number of reasons; they’re young, versatile, skilful and creative with sky-high potential. Gotze would be the dream signing, he’d be able to play anywhere in the band of three, central midfield or even false nine, much like Kevin De Bruyne. He’d go straight into the first team, and would probably push Oscar into a deeper role. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I think he’ll end up as a deep-lying playmaker like Xavi. But I don’t think we need to spend £40m+ on an attacking midfielder.
Draxler would be another very good signing who is similarly versatile, and even younger than Gotze. He would come much more cheaply than Gotze, about £20m, and he’d be easier to lure from Schalke than Gotze from Dortmund. He probably wouldn’t displace anyone immediately, but he’d be good enough to fill in for any of Mazacar should he need to. £20m is a more realistic price to pay for a backup midfielder, and for someone like Draxler it’s very good business.
A very similar signing to Draxler would be Malaga’s 20-year-old Spanish magician Isco. He’s been hailed as the new Andres Iniesta, and it’s easy to see why. Isco has been crucial in Malaga’s Champions League run, and it was his goal that turned the game against Porto. In the recent Copa Del Rey clash between Malaga and Barcelona at the Nou Camp, Isco was easily the best player on the pitch. Malaga led the tie for most of the match, but Barca eventually turned it round to win 6-4. Malaga plays a similar 4-2-3-1 to Chelsea, and Isco has racked up a very respectable eight league goals playing all across the band of three. But it’s been in the Champions League where Isco’s impressed the most, with three goals and three assists in his six games.
If reports are to be believed, Chelsea have secured themselves a first refusal option on Isco thanks to the Lucas Piazon loan deal. Until recently, Isco had a £17m buyout clause, and it remains a mystery exactly why nobody triggered it. He signed a new deal a couple of months ago that increased his buyout clause to £35m, a much fairer reflection of his talents. But something tells me that there’s much more to the Piazon loan than meets the eye. I don’t know exactly what, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see, for example, Lucas Piazon stay at Malaga for another year with Isco joining Chelsea for about £20m. He’d be the perfect cover for Mata, Hazard and Oscar, and he’s talented enough to go straight into the Chelsea team.
There are plenty of exciting options to fill the role of winger/striker, and one is possibly the most in-form player in Europe right now – Gareth Bale. Yes, I know that he signed a new contract last summer, and that he’d probably cost between £40m and £50m. But Bale might just be the perfect signing for Chelsea. He’s young, powerful, lighting fast, a brilliant crosser, good finisher, very versatile, a solid defender and above all, a prolific goalscorer. When Drogba departed in the summer, Chelsea lost the man who could suddenly pop up with a goal out of nothing. Bale does this in a different way to Drogba, but he does it very effectively all the same. Whether it’s a sprint down the flank and a pinpoint cross, a 30-yard free-kick or a 60-yard run and shot, Bale brings that “X factor” that gets supporters on the edge of their seats. I said the same thing for Yaya Toure that I’ll say for Bale; if Chelsea sign him in the summer, we will win the Premier League next season.
As a cheaper, younger but immensely talented option, we could do much worse than make a move for AC Milan’s ultra-skilful Italian international Stephan El Shaarawy. The 20-year-old has had his breakout season in 2012-13, notching 16 league goals for the Rossoneri, second only to Edinson Cavani. Playing all across the attack, El Shaarawy has been Milan’s main man all season, scoring and creating goals at will. He’s settled at Milan and under contract to 2018, but a £30m bid could tempt AC Milan to sell. El Shaarawy is quick, versatile, incredibly skilful and in red-hot form. He could play on either wing or up front, and would give a completely different dimension to the Chelsea attack.
A similar signing to El Shaarawy, and maybe an easier one, could be Borussia Dortmund’s German winger Marco Reus. Like El Shaarawy, he’s versatile enough to play on both flanks or down the centre and good enough to go straight into the first team. Reus only signed for Dortmund last summer, and has settled in well. Dortmund have no good reason to sell and Reus has no good reason to leave, but nevertheless he’s well worth trying to sign. Reus’s biggest weapon is his pace, but he’s very creative and prolific – 15 goals and 11 assists in his first season for Dortmund is an exceptional record. With 3 goals and 3 assists in his 4 games for the German national team this season, Reus is in the form of his life, and anything up to £30m would be money well spent.
My personal favourite (though I expect many of you to disagree) is the Brazilian prodigy Neymar. I know that he’s looked like a very selfish player in his recent international games for Brazil, but this can be explained. In his games for Santos, opposition defences know that they are nowhere near as good as him, so they sit deep, preferring to allow Neymar to run at them rather than in behind them. This still doesn’t work, because Neymar is fast and skilful enough to beat any Brazilian league defender. Consequently, Neymar’s mentality is that he is good enough to beat any defender at all. International defenders are better than defenders in Brazil, so Neymar often tries to take on too many players because that’s what he’s used to doing back home. When he eventually does come to Europe he’ll realise this, and adapt his game accordingly. The Premier League would be something of a culture shock for Neymar, but if Oscar could manage the transition so smoothly, I’m sure Neymar could. Having his pace, skill, flair and invention at Chelsea would be wonderful. Even if he didn’t have the impact we’d hope for, he is so young, so talented and so marketable that he would have a huge resale fee. I’d happily go to £55m for Neymar, because the combination of Mata, Hazard, Oscar and Neymar would be heaven on earth. With Lukaku leading them into battle…Just imagine it.
Lukaku can certainly lead us into battle, but he can’t do it on his own, he’s still a teenager after all. A versatile winger/striker will help to take some of the burden off Lukaku, but we’ll need one more striker if we sell Ba. A good-quality replacement, at an affordable price, is essential, and Christian Benteke springs to mind. The 6ft 4in Belgian has been doing a terrific job for Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa this season, and with 17 goals and 5 assists he has been easily their best player. If Villa are relegated they’ll be forced to sell Benteke, but he’ll probably leave even if they stay up. Benteke is young, fast, strong and a cool finisher, and has scored some crucial goals in Villa’s relegation battle. He shouldn’t cost much more than £10m, which would be daylight robbery. Rekindling the Benteke-De Bruyne partnership could be devastating, and I’m sure that Benteke would jump at the chance to link up with KDB again.
A similar but more high-profile proposition could be another Borussia Dortmund player, Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. Like Benteke and Lukaku, Lewandowski is the complete modern striker. His hold-up play is excellent; he’s very quick, strong in the air and an outstanding finisher. Lewa has confirmed that he won’t sign an extension to his current deal which expires in 2014. With 26 goals and 13 assists this season, Lewa is in fantastic form and would be a brilliant addition for any team. The difficulty would be snatching him from under the noses of Bayern Munich and Man United, both of whom have shown interest. He should be available for less than £20m, and that will be a bargain for whoever snaps him up.
The name on most Chelsea fans’ lips has been the Colombian striker, Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao. Falcao too is in the form of his life, with 27 goals in 31 games for Atleti this season. Falcao is quick, strong, two-footed and deadly in the air or on the ground. There’s been all sorts of rumours about Chelsea have various deals agreed for El Tigre, some involving Courtois, some involving Torres. His buyout clause is €60m, a fair price for someone of Falcao’s talent. But I’m not convinced that a 27-year-old striker that won’t get more than one contract and has no resale value will be worth getting. He guarantees goals, but I’d be a little worried for Lukaku’s development, and I think there are better options.
One such option is the current leading scorer in the Premier League, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez. Suarez’s style of play is almost unique; he runs at defenders, getting rebounds and nutmegs and drawing fouls. I think this is exactly what Chelsea need; a skilful dribbler that is cool in front of goal and great at creating space. Suarez playing off Lukaku would be glorious; defenders would have no idea what do go, do they challenge Suarez or mark Lukaku? Or mark Mata and Hazard around them? Mata-Suarez-Hazard would be lethal!
Liverpool won’t let Suarez go cheaply, but Suarez has spoken recently about wanting to play in the Champions League, and Liverpool can’t offer that. Anything up to £40m for Suarez would be an excellent deal for Chelsea. Suarez is another player that I believe would win the league for Chelsea, should we sign him.
Release: Florent Malouda, Yossi Benayoun
Sell: Gael Kakuta, Marko Marin, Fernando Torres, Demba Ba
Buy: Isco or Gotze, Neymar or Bale and Lewandowski, Benteke or Suarez, the dream scenario would be Isco, Neymar and Suarez.