On Tuesday morning, with West Ham’s final game at Upton Park looming, Bayern managed to hog the limelight from the Hammers with the big-name signings of Renato Sanches and Mats Hummels. In short, transfers remain one of the most exciting aspects of football. With the season nearing its climax, gossip columns are working overtime to link this player with that club, particularly with Euro 2016 on the horizon.
Chelsea are a team expected to invest heavily this summer on the back of a disastrous title defence. With Antonio Conte the man tasked with taking the Blues back to the summit of England’s top tier, a host of Serie A stars have been linked with a summer switch to Stamford Bridge. Here, WhoScored.com runs through the possible incomers and what they can offer Chelsea…
Seemingly the most likely deal to go through, Radja Nainggolan has been a target for Chelsea since Conte was touted as Guus Hiddink’s long-term successor back in January. ‘The Ninja’ has since re-established himself as a key member for this Roma side following Rudi Garcia replacement by Luciano Spalletti. With four of his six league goals this season coming in his last seven Serie A appearances, Roma are understandably keen to retain Nainggolan’s services beyond the end of this season.
Chelsea have reportedly already failed with an opening bid of £23m as they look to sign the central midfielder before the Euros begin. His tenacity in the middle of the park is arguably his strongest asset, with Nainggolan an ideal performer in a midfield three. Conte looks set to utilise such a system at Chelsea, where Nainggolan’s seemingly limitless energy levels would be a huge asset.
In the last four Serie A seasons, only Allan (611) has won possession in the midfield third more times than Nainggolan (582), who not only wins the ball, but instigates attacks. His style of play differs from midfield options currently available to Conte, who has every right to be keen on Nainggolan.
A stand-out performer in Juventus’ own BBC – Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini – the Italian centre-back is well-versed in Conte’s managerial demands. Having arrived as an inconsistent youngster with ample potential in 2010, Conte moulded Bonucci into one of the finest defenders in Italy. The towering 29-year-old is now a vital member of the Italian national team, with the Juventus star arguably the Azzurri’s most important defender.
However, given Barzagli’s advancing years and Chiellini’s ongoing injury concerns, it would take a hefty bid to convince Juventus to cash in on Bonucci. Given his relationship with Conte, though, the Italy international could well be keen on linking up with his compatriot at club level once more. Factoring in John Terry’s impending exit, an experienced defender is crucial, particularly one who is excelling at the highest level and has the leadership qualities that can fill a huge void.
Bonucci’s average of 2.3 interceptions per game this season is its highest since he moved to Juventus, with his ability to assess impending danger and cut out the threat not only a benefit to his side defensively, but also highlights Bonucci’s ability to instigate attacks from defence. He is playing the second-most passes per game (62.9) of all Juventus players and with a respectable 86.9% success rate, the centre-back would do well for a Chelsea side that favours a more measured approach to attacking.
The second of three Roma players strongly linked with a Chelsea switch, Greece international Kostas Manolas is another Spalletti would be keen to retain at the end of the season. The 24-year-old has impressed in his two years in the Italian capital, with his form for Olympiacos enough to convince the Giallorossi to part ways with a reported €15m back in 2014. There is plenty of time for Manolas to improve his game, yet his performances suggest he is ready to take the next step in his development.
As a body-on-the-line defender, he and Terry share similar traits, though Manolas is perhaps the more athletic of the two centre-backs given that only Davide Astori (3) has made more last-man tackles in Serie A this season than the Greek defender (2). He is no slouch in the air ether, winning more headed battles (123) than any other player in Italy’s top tier this term, reinforcing his statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of ‘aerial duels’.
That isn’t to say Manolas is the finished article, of course; far from it in fact. His concentration can be an issue, with only a handful of players committing more errors that have led to an opposition shot on goal (4) in Serie A this campaign. This, though, is an area of his game that can be worked on under Conte’s stewardship and Manolas could well go on to become a mainstay in the Chelsea XI, should the Premier League side land their man this summer.
While Juventus have been strongly linked with a move for Miralem Pjanic this week, Chelsea are a side that could maximise the Bosnian’s qualities. Conte has supposedly made the 26-year-old one of his top targets, along with Roma teammate Nainggolan, as he aims to inject creativity into this Chelsea side. With Oscar tipped for a move away from the club, the arrival of Pjanic would not only ease the Brazilian’s departure, but could prove to be an upgrade given his inconsistency.
A rumoured £30m buy-out clause would appeal to any team on the continent, regardless of their stature, particularly with his instinctive eye for a defence-splitting pass. Only Marek Hamsik (88) and Borja Valero (77) have played more key passes than Pjanic (76) in Serie A this season, and he ranks behind only Lorenzo Insigne (16) and Hamsik (14) for clear-cut chances created (13) in Italy’s top tier.
With the likes of Willian and Eden Hazard constantly on the move and making runs in behind the opposition defence, Pjanic’s invention in the final third would benefit the Blues.
He is the only player to register double figures for assists in the last two Serie A seasons, with his form this campaign returning a WhoScored.com rating of 7.44. Kevin Strootman’s return to fitness would ease Pjanic’s possible sale, though the general consensus is that Roma would sell one of the Bosnian or Nainggolan, not both. Either way, if the Italian side are forced into cashing in, Chelsea would be wise to snap up the creator.
Having been appointed captain by Roberto Mancini at the beginning of the season, Mauro Icardi initially struggled with the pressure that came with sporting the armband. However, the Argentine has since rediscovered his goalscoring touch. Only Gonzalo Higuain (33), Carlos Bacca and Paulo Dybala (both 17) have scored more goals in Serie A this season than Icardi (16), reinforcing his WhoScored.com strength of ‘finishing’.
What’s crucial, though, is that in the last two Serie A campaigns, only Higuain (32) has scored more clear-cut goalscoring opportunities than Icardi (25). The 23-year-old frontman boasts the positional expertise to move into goalscoring situations and, given his goal-getting ability, more often than not tucks these opportunities away.
More than capable of hanging on the shoulder of the last defender, Icardi’s runs in behind is his best way to goal. Given Cesc Fabregas has played the most accurate through balls (17), the foundation is there for the duo to form a commendable understanding with one another, provided Fabregas remains part of Conte’s plans once he takes charge. With Chelsea’s attack expected to undergo refurbishment this summer, it’s no wonder Icardi has been linked with a move to west London.
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