Pat Nevin: Counting them in
column Tue 5 Sep 2017
With off-pitch trading rather than on-pitch action the primary activity in the Premier League over the past week, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin takes stock in this week’s column…
The transfer window is a serious business, it can have a massive effect on what kind of season a team will have. Clubs know this, fans are acutely aware too but what constitutes a good window is usually only obvious many months later.
The temptation is to consider how good your business has been by comparing it with how others fared with their particular targets. So on the basis of that, Man City and Man United seemed to get just what they wanted, but then again they were not starting from the position of champions. Spurs had a late impressive splurge and Arsenal may say they have had better windows.
In reality, all this comparing with others is probably the wrong starting point. It is how your own squad looks and that is impossible to tell before we see how the new lads fit in. Remember that the acquisition of Marcos Alonso and the retention of Victor Moses were not exactly heralded at the start of last season, but you could argue they were among the two most influential players in winning the Premier League. This was not only because of their ability to play football but also because their capabilities allowed Antonio to perfectly utilise the 3-4-3 system.
So in come Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater, Alvaro Morata and Davide Zappacosta, while Willy Caballero is back-up to Thibaut Courtois. The first four names are clearly ones who can and will be considered as regular starters at various points. Zappacosta may well make that five as his recruitment reminds me of the reaction to Alonso’s 12 months ago. So that is arguably five outfield players that can come straight into the team if needed. Half a team! This is actually quite a huge addition to a side that has just won the title. By definition, it is difficult to acquire players who can get into the best team in the league, but there is a handful who will not look out of place.
Of course, many have left and there were quite a few big holes to fill. So the question remains, is there enough to get us through to the next window while still being competitive domestically and in Europe? With a fair wind, I think there is, unless we get a sudden huge raft of long-term injuries and petty suspensions.
First of all, I think of the squad in groups of players if we take it as a 3-4-2-1 formation. I reckon this is how it shapes up with the manager’s options just now. The important thing is that we have quite a few players who cover us in a few positions. They can’t play both positions at once, but they can be moved when needed.
1. Central defenders; you need three playing and we have at least six available in Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, and Marcos Alonso could fill at left centre-back if needed. In a crisis you go to two centre-backs, so two from six should always be available.
2. Wide midfielders/wing backs; well you need one playing each side in our system, our squad can call on Victor Moses, Azpilicueta, Zappacosta and even Pedro has played that role on the right-hand side. On the left, that single space could be filled by Alonso of course along with once again Azpilicueta and Zappacosta as they are perfectly capable of managing the role.
3. Deep-lying central midfielders; you need two playing in there at any one time and we have N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas with the option of David Luiz cruising in there again if needed, just as he did against Spurs. Five for two positions and all extremely capable, no worries there.
4. Attacking midfield is the next area; in a 3-4-2-1 you clearly need two, but that can sometimes be three if the system is adapted. We can call on Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and of course Cesc Fabregas is perfectly adept at playing number 10 as he has done brilliantly many times for us. This area is tighter, but the quality is incredible and almost certainly enough unless we are very unlucky with injuries.
5. The final area is of course up top with Alvaro Morata (who can play wider if needed in the previous category) with Michy Batshuayi. A quick look at the Premier League squad list and the name of Diego Costa is still there.
Antonio also has the option of other systems of course; he could use two up front and almost certainly will do so at various points this season. And remember the forward line of Pedro, Willian and Hazard which he sprang on us last season? Well I think that would be even better now that our players know this 3-4-2-1 system so incredibly well.
The boss has been radical in his thinking many times, and his success rate so far has been astounding when he has instigated his cunning plans. Even as recently as the game against Spurs the tactics were pretty unexpected but they worked to perfection.
There are of course other fringe players and youngsters who will be used at various points, specifically in the Carabao Cup, but as mentioned already, unless we have a huge amount of bad luck it should be a deep enough pool of players and remember, every club struggles when their very best players are unavailable anyway.
So there was some concern from fans as the window closed at 11pm on Thursday, especially as I sat on the sofa at Chelsea TV pretty convinced that we had Danny Drinkwater but it couldn’t be announced until all the loose ends were neatly tied up. I felt we absolutely needed to get that one over the line along with the Zappacosta deal to give us the options mentioned above. In amongst all the seriousness and many furrowed brows, one moment did make me laugh out loud.
Just as Davide Zappacosta signed, he was asked some questions by Chelsea TV which he answered eloquently in Italian. When asked if he could manage a few words in English he then sounded just as fluent in the language of our reporter. Many millions may have been spent in total this summer but that moment was priceless. There is a clip of it below.