Chelsea Keep or Dump: Big decisions for Maresca around Gallagher, Sterling, more

After spending heavily since the 2022 takeover — and inheriting a number of big contracts from the previous regime — Chelsea have incurred heavy losses, which were aggravated by the lack of income from UEFA competitions in 2023-24. They are also under some pressure to comply with the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR) and may have to transfer players for cash before June 30 (when the 2023-24 season officially ends) to avoid sanction. Indeed, Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly himself said in the club accounts that he expected the club to comply with PSR “in the foreseeable future” which suggests “maybe not right now, but soon.”

The good news is that Chelsea are in decent shape to raise money quickly by transferring out players. Lewis Hall’s loan to Newcastle turned into a permanent move at the end of the season, netting the club some £28 million (and the fee could go higher based on bonuses). They also have a number of other players who have done well while out on loan — Omari Hutchinson at Ipswich and Ian Maatsen at Borussia Dortmund are obvious examples — who can easily be shifted. And because those are homegrown players (like Hall), their transfer would be pure profit since their amortised book value is zero.

Over the past few transfer windows, Chelsea have had a very specific approach aimed at signing promising young players (often at great expense) to unusually long-term contracts (more than the standard five years) to relatively low wages. Part of the thinking — in addition to acquiring young talent that will hopefully improve — means that they’re easier to transfer for fees if things don’t work out since, unlike some of the players they inherited (Romelu Lukaku, Kepa Arrizabalaga), they’re not high earners.

The outcome of the 2023-24 season was a very young squad that often showed the limits of inexperience. We disagree a bit on to what degree this ought to be addressed. Mark suggests that to win they have to a mix of players, including established ones. Gab says that having embarked on this project, they have to stick with it and give it a chance to work: there’s no real middle ground. Either way, it’s evident that when it comes to personnel, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, Chelsea’s co-sporting directors, are driving the project.

A lot will also depend on the new boss, Enzo Maresca, who replaces the departed Mauricio Pochettino not long after getting Leicester City promoted back to the Premier League. Maresca was given a five-year deal — highly unusual in the modern game, unless it has some kind of early-termination clause — and plays an aggressive, possession-oriented 4-3-3. Presumably, he’s also considerably cheaper than Pochettino too. On the flip side, we’re not sure Chelsea’s current squad is a natural fit for the style of play we saw from Maresca’s Leicester, so there will have to be adjustments.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in this year’s series, Keep or Dump, over the coming weeks on which players to keep, extend and move on from for all the top clubs in the Premier League and Europe. Find the Man City version here, the Arsenal version here and the Liverpool edition here.

Remember: This is our assessment of what we think the club should do, player for player, with the squad at their disposal. It’s not what we think they will actually do, though sometimes the two will align. That said, we take into account what we know of the club, coaching staff and player preferences, as well as their financial situation and any other factors that we think will impact personnel moves.

Where we disagree, or where we think our rationale is worth explaining, we’ve noted below.

Marcotti: He was brought in to start, but lost his place to Petrovic. I’d imagine Maresca will pick his No.1 in preseason, giving both a chance to win the job. He’s decent with his feet, so he may have the edge.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: He’s better than Sanchez, but let’s face it, neither is very good. But given all the other things Chelsea have to fix, this is the least of their concerns.

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: He has played zero minutes for the club in any competition in the past two years, and he last started a Premier League back in 2018, when he was at Fulham. You don’t need a veteran like that as your third keeper. I don’t know how much of a market he has and you won’t get much if you move him on, but there’s no point keeping him around when he’s older than the two guys ahead of him.

Verdict: Move on

Ogden: It’s hard to believe he’s a two-time Champions League winner. Maybe you’ll find a buyer since he only has a year left on his contract?

Marcotti: Unless somebody comes along and offers you real money for Petrovic or Sanchez and you let Kepa compete for a starting job — which is highly unlikely — you have to move him. Send him on loan, even if you then lose him on a free in the summer, and even if you have to subsidise his wages

Verdict: Move him on, or find him another club on loan

Marcotti: He’s still very young, but has a season in Major League Soccer (with Chicago Fire) and a season with Eupen, who were relegated from the Belgian league, under his belt. They paid a significant fee for him when he was just 18, so they should find a home for him on loan and let him grow.

Verdict: Loan out again

Ogden: He’s “all profit” on the books if you transfer him for a fee. You wouldn’t ordinarily think of letting him go, but from a financial perspective and given Chelsea’s constraints, it may be worth it.

Marcotti: You have to keep him. It’s not just that he’s hugely promising, it’s the fact that he hasn’t had a good season and is currently injured too. That means you won’t get anywhere near his market value for him. Let him stay, and build your defence around him.

Verdict: Split (Keep, but listen to offers/Keep)

Ogden: He has been hot and cold, but what can you do? He cost €45m a year ago and has a long contract. You won’t get that money back. You have to suck it up and hope he finds some consistency.

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: I’m a fan, though between injuries and poor performance, he had a rough year. Don’t give up on him just yet.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: Since 2021, he has started just 21 league games in three years. He’s already had two serious injuries and hasn’t played in a year. Chelsea paid £70m, too, so he’s not going anywhere. All you can do is hope that you can keep him fit enough that he can contribute.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: He’s English and homegrown, you can get a decent fee for him and unlike the others, it would be “pure profit” (maybe £20m, maybe a bit more).

Marcotti: I agree. If all the central defenders are fit, he’s fourth- or fifth-choice. I know it’s a big if, but still…

Verdict: Move on

Marcotti: He’s a fan favorite, his wages are tiny and you may need a defensive right-back in some situations. Keep him in the mix and decide by January if you want to extend him.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: What a signing he’s been for the club when you consider that he was already 36 when he arrived. Still, it was time to say thank you and let him go.

Verdict: Releasing at end of contract

Marcotti: He’s on big money, he’s been injured for the best part of the past three seasons and he still has three years left. There’s nothing you can do with him other than hope that Maresca likes him and he stays fit enough to be your first-choice left back.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: Paid way over the odds to bring him across from Brighton. He can’t defend, his confidence has been shattered and he’s now working for his fifth Chelsea manager since joining the club in 2022. He needs a move for the sake of his career.

Marcotti: He improved a bit in the second half of the season, but I’m not sure he’s the sort of left-back that Maresca wants. Ideally you’d move him on, especially since, Colwill can be an option at left-back too if fit. But that’s very difficult to do because he’s also on a big salary. See where you are in January: maybe you can find a take on loan.

Verdict: Split (Keep and evaluate/move him on)

Ogden: He’d bring in a lot of money if they let him go, but you have to keep him and have him prove his fitness, especially since he’s had a lot of injuries in the past three seasons.

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: It took a little while for him to get going, but he was one of Chelsea’s few bright spots this year. Unlucky for him that James plays the same position.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: From a football perspective, you’d keep him, but you have to move him because you can’t get rid of the other two left-backs due to their contracts. You also need to raise cash, and you could receive at least £30m in pure profit should he leave, since he’s homegrown.

Marcotti: I’d listen to offers and I take your point, but I’d also listen to Maresca. Maatsen is a very different profile to Chilwell and Cucurella and if he says that’s the player he needs, maybe you take a hit and shift one of the other two, even at a loss.

Verdict: Split (Move on/Keep, but listen to offers)

Marcotti: It was a loan that turned into a permanent deal if certain conditions were met and so he’s gone, bringing in some needed cash.

Verdict: Transferring to Newcastle for $28 million

Marcotti: Played eight minutes on loan at Forest and a little more at Strasbourg, but he’s clearly not ready yet. Leave him there on loan.

Verdict: Loan out

Marcotti: His loan deal became permanent this summer. He did well for them and won the league. Crucially, his wages are off the books.

Verdict: Transferred to Galatasaray on a permanent basis

Ogden: He struggled after the move from Brighton, but there’s a player there. He’s worth persevering with… not that you really have a choice.

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: Injuries meant he played 33 minutes all year. Maresca worked with him at Manchester City, so that’s a plus, but he remains a giant question mark.

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: Another one who was slowed by injury. He’s still pretty raw and if other midfielders are fit, he’d be a candidate to go on loan.

Verdict: Keep, but evaluate in the summer to see how much he might factor in first-team plans

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: It’s a Mason Mount-type situation all over again. He’s resisting a new contract on the terms they’re offering. You can get £45m to £50m for him in transfer fees with a year left, and we know Chelsea need those funds.

Marcotti: He works very hard and the fans love him, but basically he’s an attacking midfielder and there are others in that role. If you can get a deal done that suits the club, you have to let hm go.

Verdict: Move on

Marcotti: He’s an exciting, versatile talent, but you have to get him minutes as he’s started six top-flight games over three seasons. If he’s fit and Maresca feels he can get regular playing time, great. If not, send him out on loan.

Verdict: Keep, but evaluate in the summer to see how much he might factor in first-team plans

Marcotti: Same deal as Chukwuemeka. Maresca had him on loan in the first half of last season, so he knows him well. If he’s going to be part of the rotation in midfield, keep him. If not, send him on loan again.

Verdict: Keep, but evaluate in the summer to see how much he might factor in first-team plans

Ogden: He’s Chelsea’s best player. After the season he had, he deserves a new contract and a raise.

Marcotti: I agree he’s been phenomenal and has outperformed his contract, but the club have all the leverage here. There’s no point giving out these super-long contracts and getting leverage if you don’t use it.

Verdict: Split (Keep and extend his contract/Keep, but do not extend)

Ogden: Making just two starts due to injury last season, his absence was perhaps the biggest blow to Chelsea’s campaign. However, he obviously needs to be fit and stay fit. Beyond that, he’s hugely versatile, having played as a midfielder, winger and forward in his career. It’ll be interesting to see what Maresca does with him.

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: In and out of the team at Strasbourg, he’s not ready and Chelsea have enough wingers. Loan him out.

Verdict: Loan

Ogden: It contradicts what I said before about having a mix of experienced players who have achieved things, but Sterling is not a leader, so I’d listen to offers. I doubt you’ll get any credible ones, so there’s not much you can do. You’re stuck with him.

Verdict: Listen to offers

Ogden: I like him. There’s a player there: he’s tenacious, though I just don’t think it’s working for him at Chelsea. Someone will take him and if he does well elsewhere you can move him on.

Marcotti: First off, it depends on the type of wingers Maresca wants. I find Mudryk to be pretty one-dimensional, but if you want fast, straight-line runners, you keep him. The thing about loaning him out: his transfer fee was so high and his contract so long that even after a year on loan, you’d still need to demand at least 50m to not make a loss on unamortised value.

Verdict: Keep, but loan out

Verdict: Keep

Marcotti: Still a work in progress and needs help up front, but we’ve seen definite signs of improvement.

Verdict: Keep

Ogden: Even if you don’t get another striker, you have Palmer and Nkunku who can play up front. Just loan him out.

Marcotti: Did OK on loan at Burnley and Jackson can’t be your only striker, so if you don’t get one, keep him around.

Verdict: Split (Keep, if you don’t sign a striker/Loan out)

Marcotti: Needs to grow before he can expect to play a part at Stamford Bridge.

Verdict: Loan

Ogden: He obviously doesn’t want to come back, so move him on.

Marcotti: With two years left on his deal, you’d need a significant fee to not take a book loss on him and given his huge wages, you won’t get that. You have to hope you can place him on loan again somewhere: after all, he did score 21 goals in all competitions last year at Roma, all of them from open play. He can help somebody.

Verdict: Split (Move on/Keep, but loan out)

Marcotti: He’s struggled with injuries and been poor when fit for most of the past two years. I’d keep him or Fofana to back up Jackson if they can’t find another striker; otherwise, send him on loan and hope he regains his mojo.

Verdict: Loan

Verdict: Loan

Ogden: Did well for Ipswich on loan in their promotion season and they’re reportedly keen to make the deal permanent.

Verdict: Move on

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