Chelsea have made their first move of the January transfer window as they confirmed the arrival of Ross Barkley from Everton. The Blues have signed the England international for £15 million, which is a bargain price for a player with the quality that the midfielder possesses. He was in the final year of his contract at Goodison Park and that forced the club into a corner. Antonio Conte has bemoaned his lack of backing in the transfer market since winning the title, but this is a very shrewd deal from the club, as there is little risk at the transfer fee paid.
The Blues have been long-time admirers of the midfielder and came close to signing him in the summer. However, Sky Sports reported at the time that the player snubbed a transfer, despite a fee of £35 million being agreed between the two clubs. In the end, that decision from Barkley was a blessing in disguise as Chelsea have been able to save £20 million. There were reports after the closing of the summer transfer window, it was reported that the 24-year-old wanted a move to Tottenham, which caused his rejection of Chelsea.
It is difficult to believe anything you read regarding transfers, as every source has different information on a deal. Barkley knew he wouldn’t be able to play for the first half of the season due to injury and he may have wanted time to consider his next move. The fact that this deal has been completed so quickly suggests that the midfielder is keen on a move to Stamford Bridge and his comments reported by BBC Sport reflect that:
“To be given a fresh start at a new club like Chelsea, it’s unbelievable for me,”
His new manager Antonio Conte had this to say on his team’s new signing:
“He’s very young and has a lot of space for improvement,”
“He’s a good prospect but at the same time, it will be very important to understand, if the player signs, we must have patience to help him recover.”
After not playing for the first half of the season and a longer period of stagnation at Everton, it was important for Barkley to get a fresh start. It would have done him little good to stay at Goodison Park for the rest of the season ahead of the World Cup as he wouldn’t have been motivated to play for the Toffees. A transfer to a top six clubs increases the pressure on him and it is now up to him to prove that he belongs at the highest level, as there will be many doubting his ability.
Where does he fit in at Chelsea?
Antonio Conte has implemented a very successful 3-4-3 formation at Stamford Bridge, but there have been problems to emerge from it this season. There has been a lack of drive from the middle of the park, which hinders their attack, as the front three get little support centrally. Too often, Eden Hazard has to drop deeper to influence the game and that is not good. Tieumoue Bakayoko was supposed to be the engine of the midfield this season, but he has struggled to find his best form since arriving from Monaco.
As Conte alludes to in his comments after the signing, Chelsea will need to be patient with Barkley as he recovers from injury, but there will be hope that the Englishman can add drive to their midfield. The 24-year-old will need time to develop a tactical understanding, but he will benefit from working with a world-class coach like the Blues’ boss. Although he has yet to fulfil his potential, he hasn’t worked with one of the very best before and he could be a player that improves quickly at his new club.
There was a lot of expectation on Ross Barkley at a young age and he sometimes struggled to live up to the billing he received as a teenager. He ends his Everton career with 150 Premier League matches to his name. The total of 21 goals and 18 assists is slightly underwhelming for a player of his quality. If he is to succeed at Chelsea, he is going to have to improve both his decision making and consistency in the final third.
Last season, there was the reason to believe that Barkley was making steps in the right direction at Goodison Park, as he was averaging 2.73 shots and 2.61 chances created per ninety minutes. He was a central figure in the Toffees’ attack and although it isn’t often talked about, his absence has been felt as well as Romelu Lukaku’s. The midfielder was excellent at picking up the ball in his own half and carrying it long distances, averaging 1.7 dribbles per game.
Chelsea need to improve in transition and the signing of Barkley is designed to do that. Ngolo Kante can do the defensive work of two players and that will provide a platform for the new signing. The former Everton man will have to contribute off the ball and assist in the middle of the park, but his main responsibility will be turning defence from attack quickly. Too often this season, the Blues have been slow to get out and have allowed opposing teams to pack their own half. They need dynamism deeper in the phase of play. Conte is a very intelligent manager and every signing is tailored to what his side needs. This is another example of that.
Ross Barkley is far from a no-risk signing, but the fee has made it too good to turn down for Chelsea as they look to add quality and depth to their squad during the current transfer window. Another benefit of signing the 24-year-old is that he will be available to play in the Champions League. He adds something different to the squad and there is an opportunity to develop him into exactly what the club need. For the player himself, it is a chance to prove himself at the highest level and he has been waiting for that for quite some time.
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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