Who should Chelsea have signed? Osimhen, Szoboszlai, more

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Chelsea have spent an unprecedented £1 billion across the last three transfer windows, but it hasn’t worked so far. The club have won two, drawn two and lost three of their seven games under new manager Mauricio Pochettino and are 11th in the Premier League table — already 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.

While they have amassed one of the world’s most talented young players on long-term contracts, it is possible that their strategy could be better focused on more experienced players who can make an immediate impact.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but here at Chelsea they should have believed in the summer.

– Stream on ESPN+: La Liga, Bundesliga, more (US)

The center is the pioneer

After the departures of Romelu Lukaku (loan to AS Roma), Kai Havertz (£65m from Arsenal) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (free transfer to Marseille), Chelsea were left with the injured 22-year-old Armando Broza and the unpredictable Brazilian at 18. 23-year-old David Washington is the only out-and-out center forward on the team.

Nicolas Jackson, who arrived from Villarreal for £30m this summer, can play in the middle despite having the skills of a winger or even a second striker. Although Raheem Sterling (£47.5m), Mykhailo Mudric (£62m) and, before his long-term injury, Christopher Nkunku (£52m), could all act as “false No.9s”. However, when revamping a team with a proven goalscorer arguably the first priority, you’d 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 goals.

the game the game

2:00

Lawrence: Osimen contract deadline now ‘too complicated’ for Napoli

Julien Lawrence explains why Napoli’s social media posts mocking Victor Osimen couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Who should they have signed? Victor Osimen

Last season’s Serie A top scorer for Napoli is widely regarded as one of the game’s premier centre-forwards, arguably ahead of only Man City’s Erling Haaland and now-Bayern Munich star Harry Kane as a world-class number one. 9s.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is known for driving a hard bargain, but the £150m fee would likely have been a transfer – long before the Italian club teased their star man on social media – that’s small change for a club that has the rest of the squad. Overspent throughout, especially on unnecessary teenagers.

Osimene, 24, is an excellent finisher (26 Serie A goals last season; five in six games this campaign) and the Nigeria international’s movement across the defensive line, speed to stretch opponents and aerial power will be exceptionally valuable to a team. Much better at creating opportunities than converting them.

Other options: Goncalo Ramos, Dusan Vlahovic

Paris Saint-Germain beat their rivals to confirm a loan move for Ramos (with a £56m obligation to sign permanently next summer). The 22-year-old Portugal international is yet to set Ligue 1 on fire (two goals in six games), but he has already proven enough to impress for Benfica (41 goals in 106 games) and Portugal (eight goals in six). Among Europe’s top young central strikers.

Ramos has a fine holdup game — useful for creating space and combining with wide forwards or midfield runners — is strong in the air and also has a quick finishing technique. Given the style of play, he would certainly have offered a set of qualities that the Chelsea squad lack, while they could have paid an upfront fee to Benfica without the need for a loan.

Vlaović only arrived at Juventus from Fiorentina for around £70m in January last year, but has struggled to settle. Linked with summer moves to every top club in Europe, the 23-year-old was given another chance to shine this season and has four goals in six games so far.

Those who have watched the left-footed centre-forward since his early days know that he carries a lot of untapped potential. But does his style suit Chelsea better? Given that Juventus usually go deeper (and tend to press down) with longer distances between attacking players, it’s reasonable to assume that Vlahovic would have seen more of the ball in Chelsea’s goal-scoring positions.

Although he has fewer than five touches in the attacking penalty area per 90 minutes, chances are that a fresh start in a new environment could do wonders for a forward who often lacks confidence.

the game the game

0:30

What will Moises Caicedo bring to Chelsea?

Stuart Robson and Gabe Marcotti discuss a possible move to Chelsea for Moises Cassedor from Brighton.

Defensive midfield

Chelsea have an abundance of central midfielders and are as talented as they are young.

No one would doubt the inherent quality of the likes of Enzo Fernandez (£106.8m), Moisés Caicedo (£100m), Romeo Lavia (£53m), Lesley Ugochukwu (£23.5m), Carney Chukwuemeka (£20m) or academy graduate Conor Gallagher. Yet the next 23-year-old is the most experienced performer at the heart of the team now that N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic have moved on.

While this midfield setup is undoubtedly part of the club’s ethos to gather elite young talent from around the world, the experienced presence and plug holes to organize, lead and dictate the rhythm of the game are key to the team’s tactical effectiveness. Some experienced football scouts and executives might argue that spending millions of pounds on young talent is all well and good, but without a veteran or two, the talent of the kids could be wasted.

Who should they have signed? Joao Palhinha

Although it wasn’t a popular move with the fans, Fulham’s Palhinha could make the short trip across west London to do the kind of work that Rodry does every week for Manchester City. Tactically disciplined and strong in the tackle, Palhinha is able to tick off the rest of the team with quick, intelligent passes — short and long — and prepares himself to counter-attack, tackle and intercept with skill.

Caicedo and Lavia are outstanding in distribution and recovery, but it often takes years to develop the patience and game-reading skills required to operate as defensive-minded holding midfielders in elite level football.

At 28, the Portugal international may not suit Chelsea’s approach to the transfer market, but the fact is that Bayern Munich, a club known for a well-considered spending spree, were prepared to part with £56m — which would make him their fourth. Expensive signing – speaks volumes about how valuable his understated qualities are.

the game the game

1:49

How will Soboszlai fit into Liverpool’s team?

The ESPN FC crew debate how new Liverpool signing Dominik Soboszlai will fit in at Anfield.

Attacking midfielders

While Pochettino should have no complaints about the names he can choose from in this department, a case could be made for Chelsea to add a more defined playmaker-type to orchestrate the process in the final third — especially after the departure of Mason Mount. Unite.

Sterling is a seasoned star, with Cole Palmer (£35m) and Noni Madueke (£30m) wildcards due to their lack of experience at 22, while 21-year-old Mudric has started to show some of his obvious potential, but Chelsea Nkunku was injured. The France international could provide a significant impact on his return, but there is a bit of a drop in quality without him.

Who should they have signed? Dominic Soboszlai

How Liverpool signed Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig for his £60m release clause without serious competition from other top European clubs (ie not just Chelsea) is still a bit of a mystery.

From providing a significant goal threat from outside the box to excellent set-piece delivery, constantly inviting linkups and combinations with teammates in the final third, the Hungary captain is as elegant as he is skilled.

Although Chelsea is at number nine. 8 midfielders, Soboszlai — who also has good physicality and a fine pressing-game — can even make changes deeper in midfield. And at 22, he certainly represents future value as well.

Another option: Pedro Neto

The Wolves winger could be a useful addition to a squad that has struggled with the end product so far this season. Rather inexplicably overlooked by the bigger clubs this summer – perhaps due to uncertainty following serious ankle and knee injuries – the 23-year-old can operate equally well on either side of the attack and has Premier League experience since 2019.

While it could be argued that Neto, with his pace and outstanding dribbling ability, thrives better on the counter-attack, he still has the technical ability to adapt to a dominating high-tempo team. His acceleration and one-on-one ability also make him a perfect fit for unlocking teams that sit deep, while cash-strapped Wolves are likely to listen to offers this summer. He is already being linked with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur as well as Chelsea for the future window.

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