It was at 11pm last night that the summer transfer window came to a close in England. And Chelsea made sure to use every second of it.
The Blues were busy throughout. There was the club-record signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan and the arrival of Marcus Bettinelli on a free transfer. Just shy of 40 players also moved away from Stamford Bridge, be it on loan or permanently.
Come deadline day, however, there was still plenty of work to be done for Marina Granovskaia. Dujon Sterling left on loan for Blackpool. Thierno Ballo joined Rapid Vienna for the remainder of the campaign. Ethan Ampadu opted to sign a new three-year deal and then head to Italy with Venezia.
But the big-ticket item was Saul Niguez. Talks between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid accelerated throughout the day and it was at 10.58pm – two minutes before the window closed – that the Blues submitted a deal sheet to the Premier League.
Within the next hour, the 26-year-old’s move to Stamford Bridge was confirmed. Chelsea’s summer transfer window was over. Well, almost: there’s yet to be official confirmation of Tino Anjorin’s loan move to Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. That should come today.
On the whole, it’s been a strong summer window for Chelsea, who’ve given Thomas Tuchel what he needed to compete across five fronts. Here, football.london reflect on the events of the last three months and discuss what comes next for the Blues.
To begin with, a fair amount of posturing on Chelsea’s part. The Blues went into the transfer window in need of a striker and three names were on their shortlist: Erling Haaland, Lukaku and Harry Kane.
The signing of Kane was a non-starter; Spurs chairman Daniel Levy wasn’t going to sell the club’s talisman. Let alone to Chelsea. Lukaku, meanwhile, committed his future to Inter Milan ahead of the European Championship. So the focus was on Haaland, although Bettinelli did arrive to be the club’s third-choice goalkeeper first of all.
The Blues explored a deal for Haaland. Yet they faced complete resistance from Borussia Dortmund. Haaland would only leave for a fee in excess of £150million. His wage demands were also astronomical. Understandably, Chelsea retreated.
Lukaku was the solution. The Belgian wouldn’t come cheap but Inter needed the cash to ease their financial concerns. In the space of a week, Chelsea struck a club-record deal worth around £98million to bring Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge after seven years away.
The Blues weren’t done, however. After Billy Gilmour joined Norwich City on loan, central midfield was a weakness. The trio of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic just wasn’t enough.
So in the final days of the window, a move to Saul of Atletico Madrid was on, then off, and back on again. A season-long loan was eventually completed in the final minutes of the summer window.
What didn’t happen?
Chelsea didn’t get it all their own way in the window. The Blues did sounded out Inter Milan over a big-money move for wing-back Achraf Hakimi in June but never came close to striking a deal with the Serie A champions.
Inter, for the reasons highlighted above, wanted a straight cash offer. Chelsea attempted to bring down the asking price by including a number of players, such as Marcos Alonso and Tammy Abraham, although no official bid was ever submitted.
In the end, Hakimi ended up signing with Paris Saint-Germain in a transfer worth up to £60million. The Blues moved on and would later attempt to secure the arrival of Jules Kounde from Sevilla.
Chelsea had personal terms agreed with Kounde for weeks. It felt like only a matter of time that deal would be struck with the La Liga side, even after talks were parked so that the Blues could focus on the signing of Lukaku.
A bid was submitted to Sevilla last week of around £43million plus add-ons. Chelsea felt that would be enough to get the deal done. Unfortunately not. It was rejected by Sevilla and no counter-offer was forthcoming.
On deadline day, the club’s sporting director, Monchi, made it clear Kounde would only leave if his £68million buyout clause was met. That was not a figure Chelsea were willing to match.
What should have happened?
Chelsea did pretty much what they needed this window. Lukaku is the goalscoring guarantee that was lacking last term and Saul’s arrival does strengthen a midfield that looked a little light with just N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovacic.
On the face of it, there’s little more Chelsea could have done in the summer window. But perhaps the club should have made more of an effort to stop the homegrown talent drain from their first-team squad and Under-23s.
When Anjorin’s switch to Lokomotiv Moscow is confirmed, twelve academy graduates will have moved on permanently – or with the option to in a loan – this summer. That is a huge number to lose in just three months.
The impact of those departures is unlikely to be felt immediately. Yet in the future, it almost certainly will be, even if it’s because Chelsea are paying big money to buyback players – such as Tino Livramento, Anjorin, and Tammy Abraham – to bring back players who felt they were better off continuing their development elsewhere.
Where are Chelsea lacking?
Cast your eye over Tuchel’s squad and it’s difficult to spot an immediate weakness. There are genuinely two or three options for every position, each as talented as the other.
Splitting hairs, the Blues do not have a like-for-like replacement for Lukaku. But then he wasn’t required to win the Champions League last term with Kai Havertz regularly used as a false nine and Mason Mount, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odois deployed in the two number ten roles.
Kante’s fitness is a concern – the Frenchman is yet to complete 90 minutes this season due to an ankle problem – and he’s undoubtedly the most irreplaceable star in the starting XI. Yet Chelsea can win without the 30-year-old, albeit they have to approach games in a more measured way.
It was a strong transfer window for Chelsea, one that will be capable of competing across five competitions – the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup, and Club World Cup – across the remainder of the campaign.
The biggest weakness, the lack of a reliable goalscorer, has been solved and the rest of the squad is stacked with quality. There remains a youthfulness to the first-team group but those players still possess plenty of know-how and experience of getting over the line on the biggest stage.
Chelsea had to back Tuchel after the Champions League win last term. They’ve done so all while making a profit in the transfer market of around £30million, although that has come at the cost of losing several promising young players as discussed above.
Tuchel is unlikely to be overly concerned about that; the reality is Chelsea head coaches are always judged on results, the here and now. Fail to do so and the axe falls. We’ve seen that time and time again.
Given the squad at the German’s disposal and his coaching acumen, that shouldn’t be an issue. Through their efforts in the summer transfer window, Chelsea have all the tools required to mount a Premier League title challenge. It’s been some time since that was the case.