Where has it all gone wrong for Tiemoue Bakayoko since signing for Chelsea?
Whichever way you want to look at it, and whether you are a Chelsea supporter or not, something just hasn’t quite clicked since Tiemoue Bakayoko made the switch from Monaco to Stamford Bridge.
The French international was meant to be one of two marquee summer signings alongside Alvaro Morata, lined up as a replacement for Nemanja Matic who was set to depart for Manchester United.
Bakayoko had certainly impressed over in France, playing a pivotal role in Monaco’s surprisingly successful season, and a £40 million price tag was perhaps justified considering his budding talent.
But four months into his tenure at Chelsea and it hasn’t quite gone to plan.
The 23-year-old hardly got off to the best of starts, arriving in west London harbouring an injury to the knee that required surgery, and since then his performances on the pitch have been verging on poor.
It seems that he’s become progressively worse as the weeks have gone on, something that has been epitomised over the course of the past seven days with two abject displays against Atletico Madrid and West Ham, and the warning signs must be starting to flash as far as manager Antonio Conte is concerned.
He was directly at fault for Atletico’s opening goal in their final Champions League group game – a goal that cost them top spot – when he allowed Saul Niguez to ghost into open space to nod home.
And he seemed to carry his lethargic manner into the weekend’s London derby and the shock reverse against the Hammers, putting in a sluggish and ineffective display that just looked tired and fatigued.
Lining-up in a midfield three alongside Cesc Fabregas and the ever-present N’Golo Kante he was nothing more than a passenger before being hauled off during half-time, and the post-match statistics highlight that Bakayoko failed to make a single tackle, interception or clearance all game.
It’s hardly what you would expect from a £40 million investment, and whilst it was a poor outing from every Chelsea player at a struggling West Ham it wasn’t helped in any way by Bakayoko’s horror show.
It was something of a surprise to even see Bakayoko’s name in the starting eleven for Saturday though considering the lowly-nature of their opponents, and Conte will surely be pondering whether there was a need to play three central midfielders against the Premier League’s worst defence.
Bakayoko himself was utilised in a more attacking role than normal and it was his inability to string any sort of meaningful pass together that left Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata isolated as forwards, subduing any sense of creativity in the away side with clumsy play when in possession of the ball.
To say that he struggled against a West Ham midfield of Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang compounds the Frenchman’s miserable game, and his Champions League days at Monaco seem a long way away.
Performances like these previous two, added to his bad showing against Liverpool last month, will always get people talking for the wrong reasons and it begins to lend the question of where Bakayoko fits in.
Everybody knows the role of Kante in the midfield, being the destroyer and protecting Chelsea’s defence, and the same can be said about Fabregas’ importance as the player to add a savvy and creative spark.
But in the case of Bakayoko it seems that there’s a real lack of identity in this Chelsea side.
Conte was quick to defend his summer signing in his post-match interview though, claiming that substituting him was merely a tactical decision, and he told the Evening Standard:
“Yes, it was a tactical decision.
“Bakayoko was playing a good game but when you find 11 players behind the ball and you are losing 1-0, it is important to change something and find a different solution.
“In this case Pedro has different characteristics to Bakayoko. He is better one versus one and better at taking on players. To lose a physical player wasn’t important after the first half. It was only a tactical decision. The player satisfied me for his performance.”
Whilst it’s more than likely that it was a tactical decision, with there being a glaring need for more attacking impetus in the second-half after a woeful opening 45, Bakayoko was an obvious scapegoat.
It’s perhaps interesting to note that Conte’s comments above went from saying the 23-year-old had a ‘good’ game to merely being ‘satisfied’ in the space of a few sentences, and it could be true that even he is beginning to reach the end of his tether when it comes to defending Bakayoko’s mistakes.
It’s been a surprising fall from grace from his Monaco heroics last season though, and many expected Bakayoko to arrive at Chelsea and provide a real boost such was his impact throughout 2016-17.
Nobody at Monaco made more interceptions that him last season (56), whilst only one player made more tackles (57), and it’s no surprise that he made a name for himself as being a bit of a midfield maestro.
Yet he’s not just a one-trick pony in the middle of the park and has showcased his abilities in the opposition third too – completing 57 take-ons in just 32 appearances.
It was this evident athleticism and his impact as a box-to-box midfielder that, on paper, had him down as more all-rounded than Matic.
As it turns out though it’s these heavy comparisons to Matic that have hindered the start of his time at Chelsea, with Bakayoko failing to step into the sizable shoes of the big Serbian in his first months.
It was surprising enough to see Matic sold at all, let alone allowed to leave for direct title rivals Manchester United, and his positive impact at Old Trafford only highlights how much he’s missed.
The only thing currently in Bakayoko’s favour is that it’s still early days, and his individual displays haven’t cost Chelsea too much as they still sit in third spot in the Premier League after 16 matches.
He’s still a young footballer that’s clearly adapting to the English game and Conte’s regime, and considering his injury issues since moving to Stamford Bridge he still could be vying for full fitness.
That isn’t to excuse his contribution – or lack of – recently though, and Conte needs to address Bakayoko’s lack of hunger, desire and passion on the football pitch before it becomes a problem.
He is a long way off starting to pay back some of the £40 million transfer fee just yet, and he will know that he needs a big upturn in form over the busy festive period to get supporters back on side.
Chelsea’s limited squad, allied with Danny Drinkwater’s ongoing injury problems, means that the opportunities will come, and it’s up to Bakayoko to start showing the talent he nurtured at Monaco.