How can Chelsea improve on the team that won the Premier League running away? Apparently, with some more athleticism in midfield. The Blues have wrapped up a deal for AS Monaco central midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, who joins Chelsea for a reported £40 million.
Bakayoko was a substitute over his first two seasons at Monaco, but became a first choice player this season, helping his team to a Ligue 1 title and a run to the Champions League semifinals. Bakayoko was often asked to do the work of two players, covering for aging playmaker Joao Moutinho in a two-man center.
At just 22 years old, Bakayoko has room to improve too. Chelsea will bank on him making a significant contribution right away, but improving over the life of his first contract as well.
Chelsea gets a versatile defensive midfielder who can fit multiple roles
While no one’s displacing N’Golo Kante, he didn’t have a backup last season. Cesc Fabregas is nowhere near the same type of player, while Chelsea’s younger options would have presented a dropoff in quality. This meant Kante never got a rest, and Chelsea didn’t look the same in the couple of games he missed. Bakayoko can fill Kante’s role.
But Chelsea didn’t just buy Bakayoko to be Kante’s backup. There’s no reason they can’t play alongside each other as well. Most teams would like to have one player who’s a bit more of a passer than Kante and Bakayoko in their midfield, but neither is deficient in that area, and Chelsea is effective enough at playing through their wingbacks or direct to the forwards that they can use two athletic defensive midfielders in some games if the situation calls for it.
Nemanja Matic is likely out the door
Matic has been linked most heavily to Manchester United this summer, and also occasionally to Arsenal, as well as Italian sides Juventus and Inter Milan. His contract is running down and he doesn’t seem interested in signing a new one. The Blues will be happy to get a good fee for a player who never quite fit in with Conte’s system, clearing space for Bakayoko and perhaps another future signing in the center.
£40 million is perfectly reasonable for a Bakayoko-like substance
There aren’t a lot of like-for-like transfer comparisons for Bakayoko, but his fee looks like decent value when compared to players with similar profiles at other positions. He’s a 22-year-old who was first choice for a French title-winning team and a Champions League semifinalist. Granit Xhaka — who has a similar profile — cost Arsenal £34 million last season. Barcelona paid €35 million plus added incentives for Andre Gomes last summer, while Juventus paid €32 million for Miralem Pjanic.
None of these players are perfect comparisons — they’re all more passers than defensive midfielders — but they’re all in the same age and resume ballpark. Chelsea paid normal market value for a player like Bakayoko.
Chelsea probably got the best young DM on the market
The only other player comparable to Bakayoko to move so far this window is Franck Kessie, and we’re not even sure how much AC Milan will end up paying for him after a two-year loan with an obligation to buy.
As for the other players Chelsea could have pursued, they likely would have cost more or given them less on the pitch. Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho has a reported £39 million release clause, and has seen his stock drop in the last year. Tottenham’s Eric Dier reportedly has a £50 million price tag, and Spurs would have been reluctant to deal with Chelsea. Julian Weigl of Borussia Dortmund is likely to cost just as much for anyone who wants him, while Liverpool has said Emre Can is not for sale despite being in the last year of his contract.
Young and versatile defensive midfielders who are already accomplished at Champions League level are rare. The players occupying that spot are usually older, more experienced or converted playmakers. Chelsea will be thrilled to have signed Bakayoko due to the lack of like-for-like alternatives.