Chelsea defence

Chelsea’s defensive problems are well documented; 54 goals shipped in the league (a goal every 63 minutes), and another 16 in the Champions League. As evaluated in the first part of our analysis, the bigger problem lies in the structuring of the team; the way they press, the compactness, and the overall tactical organization of the team. Thus, Chelsea’s defensive line needs a presence, a leader, an organizer, and most of all, a good and consistent defender. 

Based on the rumblings and rumours that surround the transfer market, we know there is money to solve this issue (whether generated from sales or previously laid aside). The transfer market is not just about big blockbuster signings, it is about making shrewd, smart signings. N’golo Kante and Mohammed Salah are the best examples, they weren’t exactly cheap buys, but they were incredibly smart buys. We are talking about signings that have a massive upside without going overboard financially. 

While there is the temptation to throw money at a known stalwart like Kalidou Koulibaly, this is a player who, at 29, probably no longer has his best days ahead of him. It may not be as horrid as Micah Richards made it when he laughably compared the Senegalese defender to Eliaquim Mangala but there is a visible decline in prowess. This is not a smart deal to make in this instance. It is not impossible to see Koulibaly get back to former levels but why risk this? 

José Giménez has also been mentioned as a target for the club and is also a world class defender on his day, however, the Uruguayan has been disturbed by injuries. Stefan Savić has been the partner of Felipe Monteiro for most of the season for Atlético Madrid. Declan Rice, while being a centre-half by trade, has been magnificent in midfield and there is no reason to change that. If Chelsea really want him they should be looking at him for midfield and not a position he has played a couple times in recent seasons. Dayot Upamecano signed an extension with Leipzig and Gabriel Magalhães of Lille looks closer to Arsenal or Napoli in the rumour mills. Ben White was recently mentioned and is also a very technically capable performer and he handles himself well physically but perhaps needs more time for top-flight development before a move to a club like Chelsea.

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Generally, attackers are given more leeway in the opposition box, using their dynamism to score and create chances but defenders must be on their utmost guard. Add the new and ridiculous handball rules and this job isn’t pretty. Quantifying their work in terms of blocks and clearances per game does not take into the sequences where they do not make any action, their presence is enough. This is a role of positioning and the odds are heavily skewed against them. We try to analyze three centre-backs that can make a difference to this Chelsea team and uplift the quality of its defending.

Diego Carlos
Diego Carlos had a fine season with Sevilla. (Getty Images)

Diego Carlos

It is very hypocritical to blab on about smart and shrewd signings then list a player whose release clause is said to be 75 million Euros (approximately 68 million Pounds) which is chunky for this Covid-ridden season. But if you need an experienced, tough-as-nails centre-half, with experience from Ligue 1 and La Liga then this is the man. He arrived from Nantes under the auspices of the newly-returned Monchi, forming a formidable partnership with another Ligue 1 arrival in Jules Koundé (Bordeaux). To praise Koundé and Diego Carlos alone would be a disservice to the entire backline as Jesús Navas (Captain) and Sergio Reguilón (on-loan from Real Madrid) have been immense under Julien Lopetegui. 

They complement each other so well defensively while being a very aggressive and attacking team. Reguilón and Navas (a converted winger) push forward a lot but are more than capable of handling their own defensively, but when their lines have been compromised, the centre-backs have shown their best quality. Diego Carlos is a broad-chested titan that is quick and smart to tackle, he will almost always come out with the ball safely or in the stands. Carlos makes five clearances per game in La Liga with another 3.5 per game in the Europa League. To think of that alone alludes to a player who is not comfortable playing out from danger but that is not Diego Carlos. He is an accomplished passer, and his diagonals are a thing of beauty, he is just brilliant enough to know when not to take chances, hence the many clearances. He is comfortable spreading play diagonally, vertically, or into the overlapping Reguilón who usually makes those near-sided runs. The 27-year-old averages a delicious 4.8 long balls per game in the league and 4.2 in Europe. The only supposed weakness to his game is his aerial ability and here is why statistics can be a tricky thing. 

Run his numbers through any of the known stats-providers and his aerial numbers will yield a percentage around 60 and they will probably say he wins a measly two headers per game, but the thing is Carlos always wins. He stands at exactly 6 feet, and he is excellent on the ground, being very fast for a man his build but people will say he is short for a centre-back and his aerial numbers are bad. These do not account for second balls which he most likely wins, they do not account for the times his physique enables him to put off these aerials to make them less dangerous. Diego Carlos is a well-rounded footballer who has his limitations but works well to minimize them. His partner Koundé is not so gifted too when it comes to height (5ft11), but they conceded 34 goals in La Liga, only nine more than record-breaking Real Madrid. Diego Carlos is a huge part of this, and his experience is just what Chelsea need. However, if Chelsea want to sort out their issues fast enough, this is their man.

Duje Caleta-Car
At 23 years of age, can Duje Caleta-Car be the shrewd centre-back signing to elevate Chelsea’s game? (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Duje Ćaleta-Car

In the 2017/2018 season, Rudi Garcia took Olympique de Marseille to the final of the Europa League and finished a decent fourth in the league. Another team had put on an impressive run in the race though, it was Salzburg and at the heart of their defense was Croatian Ćaleta-Car. He would be recruited but the following season would not be so good as they crashed out of the Europa League at the group stage and had to manage a fifth-place finish. Like their form, DCC struggled but had some good showings in the team, under the André Villas-Boas regime, however, he has shown his true colours. Along with Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, and Yunis Abdelhamid, he has been one of the best centre-halves in Ligue 1 this season. 

His 6ft4 frame means he is naturally terrific in the air (70% of his headers with about 2.8 won per game) and on the ground, he is quite fast for his size. Oh, and if you want a football orgasm, watch him deliver a diagonal with his right foot. Outside of the boot, under pressure, anyhow you want it, he can deliver a ball. Chelsea this season have struggled with building out from the back when Jorginho is absent and diagonals have been their best escape, this is a man who can ping one out. Against Strasbourg, he started a 34-pass sequence that saw him eventually arrive in the box after a slick one-two to crash the ball against the bar. Against Angers, he would deliver a mystifying pass so accurately to be volleyed by Valentin Rongier (Rongier miscued the shot though). 

His verticals are amazing, and you can tell he is destined for the top. Chelsea might just be that next step. The giant is very comfortable using his large frame to shield attackers from goal and even when momentarily turned, he is a quick customer. AVB has always propagated a highline that was mocked at Chelsea (media, public, and even the dressing room reviled against him). The aging John Terry was a clear misfit for such an aggressive line and it showed in counter-attacks (remember the 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal). DCC has no problems with this though, he has perfectly gelled in. Even at Salzburg, he had worked for a very aggressive team under Jürgen Klopp regent, Marco Rose. From a slow start, he has picked up to become an imperial presence for his team. The problem for the team now seems to be finding the right partner. At Chelsea, he could command the defense with his charisma and composure. The only downside to him could be his heavy leanings towards his stronger foot but if you give him enough time and space he is comfortable dishing one with his left just as casually. 

This is an investment that could be very low-risk, high-reward. There is no rumored fee for him though, so it is very difficult to gauge but this player is immense.

Lewis Dunk

Lewis Dunk
Brighton captain Lewis Dunk has all the qualities Chelsea need in defence. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Regular Premier League viewers will not be surprised to see a team called Brighton conceding the odd three, four, or even five goals. One man will usually stand out, Lewis Dunk. He plays in the centre of their defense and he is a solid rock for them. Chris Houghton was puzzlingly sacked a day after the final day of the 2018/19 season as Brighton’s run of three wins from 23 saw them narrowly escape relegation as they finished 17th. In came the fantastically curious Graham Potter, a man who had coached university teams across England, taken Östersunds from the fourth tier of Swedish football to European football, and had led a critically acclaimed Swansea team in the championship. 

At Brighton, his obsession with possession football continued. He played a midblock and the heart of it was Lewis Dunk. Brighton always tried to go toe-to-toe for possession and even though it may not have been wise on some occasions, it is their new identity. Lewis Dunk is the only man that can concede five goals and still make a case for himself as a terrific defender. He muscles, blocks and bullies anything that comes across his path and he is a leader of men, he took over the captaincy from the legendary Seagull Bruno and has led his team well. He is also a brilliant passer of the ball with good long and short passing. Dunk is big, tall, and more technically-gifted albeit a slower version of ex-Chelsea captain Gary Cahill. 

Dunk is the kind of smart and shrewd signing Chelsea should be making. Last summer Brighton demanded £50 million from Leicester city but despite being a fantastic defender, he is in no way worth that amount. Dunk is a fine, old-school defender that marshals his area with grit and zeal and he could be the piece that completes Chelsea at the back. He is one of the best pound-for-pound defenders in England and he is more than capable on the ball. He averages an impressive 62.7 passes per game with an 87 percent completion rate (4.6 long balls per game show he has a good long-passing game too). 2.91 passes per game into the final third is dwarfed by a figure like Van Dijk’s 5.44 but the different approach and player quality should be taken into consideration. A fee around the 30s will be just fine for a man his age, experience, and ability. He is also a very passionate Chelsea fan with a dog named Didier and idolizes John Terry. The Englishman gives his team a presence in both boxes as he is a wily customer when attacking corners. 

Dunk is a defender who puts everything on the line, much like the other commanding centre-halves on this list. Now it’s Chelsea’s turn to put everything on the line and act fast with a quality defensive addition. 


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