Chelsea spent an unprecedented £1 billion across the last three transfer windows, but it hasn’t really worked so far. The club have won two of their seven games, drawing two and losing three under new manager Mauricio Pochettino and sit 11th in the Premier League table — already 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.
While they have amassed a group of some of the most-talented young players in the world, all on long-term contracts, it’s possible their strategy might have been better focused towards more experienced players who could make an immediate impact.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but here’s who Chelsea should have put their faith in over the summer.
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Having let Romelu Lukaku (loan to AS Roma), Kai Havertz (£65 million to Arsenal) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (free transfer to Marseille) depart, Chelsea were left with the injured 22-year-old Armando Broja and untried Brazilian 18-year-old, Deivid Washington as the only out-and-out centre-forwards in the squad.
Nicolas Jackson, who arrived for £30m from Villarreal this summer, can also play through the middle, despite having the skillset of a winger or even second striker. While Raheem Sterling (£47.5m), Mykhailo Mudryk (£62m) and, before his long-term injury, Christopher Nkunku (£52m), can all do a job as a “false No. 9.” However, with a proven goal scorer arguably the first priority when revamping a side, you would have thought Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly would have signed one.
Chelsea have scored just seven goals in their seven Premier League games — Man City have 17, for context — and Sterling is their top scorer with two.
Last season’s Serie A top scorer for Napoli is widely regarded as one of the leading centre-forwards in the game, arguably behind only Man City’s Erling Haaland and now-Bayern Munich star Harry Kane in the pecking order of world-class No. 9s.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is known for driving a hard bargain, but a fee of £150m would likely have got a transfer done — long before the Italian club upset their star man by making fun of him on social media — which is small change for a club that have spent so much across the rest of the team, especially on untried teenagers.
Osimhen, 24, is an excellent finisher (26 Serie A goals last season; five from six games this campaign) and the Nigeria international’s movement across the defensive line, speed to stretch the opponents and aerial strength would be of exceptional value to a team that are a lot better at creating chances than converting them.
Paris Saint-Germain beat their rivals to secure a loan move (with a £56m obligation to sign permanently next summer) for Ramos. The 22-year-old Portugal international may not have set Ligue 1 alight yet (two goals in six games), but he’s already proven enough for Benfica (41 goals in 106) and Portugal (eight goals in six) to show he is one of the top young central strikers in Europe.
Ramos features a fine holdup game — useful for creating space and combining with the wide forwards or midfield runners — is strong in the air and has a quick finishing technique too. In terms of playing style, he would certainly have offered a set of qualities that the Chelsea squad lacks, while they could have paid Benfica the fee up front without the need for a loan.
Vlahovic only arrived at Juventus from Fiorentina for around £70m in January last year, but struggled to settle. Linked with a summer move to every top club in Europe, the 23-year-old was given another chance to shine this season and has four goals from six games to date.
Those who have monitored the left-footed centre-forward since his early days will know he carries lots of unreleased potential. But would his style have suited Chelsea better? Given that Juventus usually line up deeper (and tend to press lower), with longer distances between the attacking players, it’s reasonable to assume that Vlahovic would have seen a lot more of the ball in goal-scoring positions at Chelsea.
While he has less than five touches in the attacking penalty area per 90 minutes, chances are that a fresh start in a new environment could also have worked wonders for a forward who often looks short of confidence.
Chelsea have central midfielders in abundance and they’re as young as they are immensely talented.
No-one would doubt the intrinsic quality of the likes of Enzo Fernández (£106.8m), Moisés Caicedo (£100m), Romeo Lavia (£53m), Lesley Ugochukwu (£23.5m), Carney Chukwuemeka (£20m) or academy graduate Conor Gallagher. Yet the latter is the most experienced performer at the heart of the team at the age of 23 now that N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic have been moved on.
Though this midfield setup is undoubtedly part of the club’s policy of hoarding the elite young talent around the world, an experienced presence to organise, lead and dictate the rhythm of the game and plug holes is key to the strategic functioning of the side. Some experienced football scouts and executives may argue that spending hundreds of millions of pounds on young talent is all well and good, but without a veteran or two the kids’ talent may end up being wasted.
While it wouldn’t have been a popular move with the fans, Fulham’s Palhinha could have taken the short trip across west London to do the kind of job Rodri is carrying out each week for Manchester City. Tactically disciplined and strong in the tackle, Palhinha is capable of making the rest of the team tick with swift intelligent passes — short and long — while expertly positioning himself poised for counter-attacks, tackles and interceptions.
Caicedo and Lavia are outstanding at distribution and recovery, but it often takes years of elite-level football to attain the patience and game-reading skills required to operate as a defensive-minded holding midfielder.
At 28, the Portugal international may not fit Chelsea’s approach to the transfer market, but the fact that Bayern Munich, a club known for well-considered spending, were prepared to part with £56m — which would have made him their fourth-most expensive signing ever — speaks volumes about how highly his understated qualities are valued.
While Pochettino should have no complaints about the names he can select from in this department, there might be a case to be made for Chelsea adding a more defined playmaker-type to organise proceedings in the final third — especially after letting Mason Mount depart for Man United.
Sterling is an experienced star, Cole Palmer (£35m) and Noni Madueke (£30m) are wildcards given their lack of experience at the age of 22, while the 21-year-old Mudryk is starting to show something of his obvious potential, but Chelsea were hit hard by Nkunku’s injury. The France international is likely to provide a significant impact on his return, but without him there is a bit of a drop in quality.
It’s still a bit of a mystery how Liverpool ended up signing Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig for his £60m release clause without any serious competition from other top European clubs (i.e. not only Chelsea.)
From providing a significant goal threat from outside the box, to brilliant set-piece deliveries, while constantly inviting linkups and combinations with teammates in the final third, the Hungary captain is as elegant as he’s efficient.
Though Chelsea are not short of No. 8 midfielders, Szoboszlai — who also has good physicality and a fine pressing-game — could even do a shift deeper in midfield. And at 22, he certainly represents future value, too.
Wolves’ winger might have been a useful addition to a squad which so far this season has struggled with end product. Rather inexplicably overlooked by bigger clubs this summer — perhaps due to uncertainties after serious ankle and knee injuries — the 23-year-old can operate equally well on either side of the attack and has experience of the Premier League since 2019.
Though it can be argued that Neto, with his pace and outstanding dribbling ability, thrives better in a counter-attacking side, he still has the technical ability to adapt to a high-tempo team that dominate possession. His acceleration and one-vs.-one abilities also make him suited to unlocking teams that tend to sit deep, while cash-strapped Wolves would have likely listened to offers this summer. He is already being linked with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as Chelsea, for future windows.