With the Copa America concluded and Euros well underway, all the club teams have long reviewed the events that transpired for the past season and weighed it against expectations. In light of this, any immediate action required was taken, goals are set for the subsequent season, and any personnel that will help to achieve these new goals will be recruited over the summer. Turn the spotlight on Chelsea’s catastrophic 2015/16 season and there’s much work to be done behind the curtains. Whenever Italy’s European campaign comes to an end, fans will be itching to see what Antonio Conte has in store for a cast that is in dire need of improvement. The point of fixing a porous defense has long been highlighted but the attack has also been oft found wanting. When things are clicking the football can be a joy to behold; but even then there is something that the Chelsea attack still yearns and has been yearning for quite some time: the good ole leftie.
Football has evolved and this sight is now something seen time and time again. Arjen Robben bombing down the right hand side for Bayern Munich before turning his marker inside out and sending a curler into the far corner. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi meandering through challenges before sending a brilliant ball on the ground or over the top to a surging Neymar/Jordi Alba on the opposite side. Turn the spotlight on Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester City or Juventus and at least one of those scenarios is a regular occurrence.
That nimble player cutting inside and being a more direct threat towards goal has become the norm at the highest level in the modern game and is a trait that all these top teams possess from both sides of the field. At the very least, left footers are present in their attack which adds dimension – a dimension that Chelsea has lacked for far too long.
Up until this forgettable season, the sole inverted threat, in Eden Hazard, was the crux of Chelsea’s attack which brought them much domestic success in the 14/15 season. He played almost every game and most of what was good in Chelsea’s attack ran through him. Disconnect this outlet and one wonders where the goals and creativity in open play will come from. For all Willian’s good work last season, his set pieces have been his main claim to fame and his meager goal tally over the years from the right wing paints a grim picture. Upon observation, it’s clear that he is a very one footed player and coming inside on his weaker left foot rarely leads to a shot or incisive pass. Getting to the byline and crossing will always be Willian’s natural instinct and depending on him to rack up any decent goal numbers from that side will leave you in disappointment. The story is virtually the same with other right footed alternatives. Mind you, Pedro spent much of his Barcelona days operating on the right hand side and would be seen as the most potent option being stronger with his left peg. Be that as it may, question marks continue to linger around his overall quality to step up and do more in a less dominant team. To date, little has be done to dispel that skepticism.
That skepticism is replaced by apprehension when we delve into history. Not too long ago, Juventus would simply not make the cut of teams that possessed this threat and then Paulo Dybala came along. Notable is that, under Conte’s management from 2011-2014, the left footed attacker was a rare breed at the Italian Champions, if not totally non-existent. Even more noteworthy is the tune being eerily similar for Italy’s team in general, which dates even further back to the World Champions. That has less to do with feet and more to do with ability, to be fair. It does spark the thought that Conte may not be too bothered by the lack of lefties in his offensive units given he’s used to it. Notwithstanding, when Chelsea eventually do dip into the market, they won’t be limited by nationality should they pursue of leftie brilliance.
Rumors have been linking Chelsea with players such as Alvaro Morata and Sofiane Boufal and while both are talented players, in the case of Boufal, another right footed attacking midfielder yields little returns and it would serve to stifle on-loan Charly Musonda who has been impressive with Real Betis in Spain. Here are a few left-footed options that can be considered:
The future of Leroy Sane has been a topic of much discussion. The 20 year old German wide forward has showcased his ability this season at Schalke and presents a long term answer to problem on the right side of the attack with his pace, trickery on the ball and eye for goal. While he is not the finished article, his talent is unquestionable and the opportunity for him to make that position his own after a few seasons makes for sound investment. Chelsea has shown their interest in the past months. Manchester City, however, seems to be the forerunner in the race for Leroy’s signature.
Rumors linked the FC Twente attacking midfielder to Chelsea around Christmas of 2015. Back when SC Herenveen interim manager Foppe de Haan highlighted Ziyech’s suitability to Chelsea soon after the January transfer window closed, most were unaware the 23 year old existed which is the case even now. That being said, it’s hard to disagree with de Haan. 17 goals and 10 assists in the Eredevisie speaks for itself and considering that Ziyech scored 11 and assisted 16 in the previous season (plus nine goals and nine assists at Herenveen in the prior season), it’s about time the Twente captain test himself at a higher level. The Moroccan has grown from strength to strength and possesses an all-round threat in his game so he can play multiple positions including striker and his work rate is a necessary bonus. Given the current financial struggles of FC Twente, Chelsea may just unearth one of the best signings of the summer if they can acquire him for a relatively cheap price.
If anyone envisaged Rodriguez being a squad player at Real Madrid, they probably were deservedly scolded due to his tremendous performances in 14/15. The Colombian’s relegation to the bench may have come as a surprise to everyone but having world class players on the bench is not a strange occurrence at the European Champions. It is likely that James will look for greener pastures over the summer and Chelsea would be foolish to turn a blind eye.
Last but certainly not least, is the option of grooming what’s already there. Chelsea have a knack for recruiting top young players and Kenedy and Bertrand Traoré are no exception at ages 19 and 20 respectively. Both have shown glimpses of their ability last season and possess good technical ability and Traoré’s goal threat puts himself in contention for the striker position as it did last season with an impressive run of four goals in five games. Added faith in them is what’s needed for both to have a worthwhile shot at developing into good players, whether or not more established attackers come in.
There is certainly no guarantees who will arrive as no one really knows what Conte has in store for this Chelsea team going forward. From player selection to formations, things remain in limbo. But for a man that said he adapts to the players at his disposal, it should be at least apparent that Chelsea’s cut and thrust is lacking when compared to the European juggernauts. One can only hope that, in finding a solution, Antonio won’t be oblivious to the elephant in the room.