Five midfielders Chelsea could sign to replace Nemanja Matic
Chelsea are looking to sign a replacement for Nemanja Matic, could Antonio Conte look to Arsenal to find reinforcements?
With Nemanja Matic moving to Manchester United, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has a vacancy to fill in midfield. Of course, Tiemoue Bakayoko will no doubt be tasked with forging a partnership with PFA player of the year N’Golo Kante. However, their £40m signing will start the season on the sidelines as he recovers from a knee operation earlier this summer. That leads us to Danny Drinkwater. The England international has emerged as something as a surprise target for the English champions. Drinkwater lacks the glamour of other midfield contenders but is the safest pair of hands to take on the role. Drinkwater would provide back-up to both Bakayoko and Kante. The 27-year-old’s performances levels dipped like the rest of his Leicester City team-mates last season. However, Drinkwater played a key role in helping Claudio Ranieri’s men in their title-winning campaign in 2015-16. Perhaps seen as a more defensive-minded player, Drinkwater still made seven goals when Leicester beat Tottenham Hotspur to the title. Another key factor would be his previous experience of playing alongside Kante, who helped to bring out the best in the England international.
While Drinkwater would be the best alternative for the present, Renato Sanches would be a signing for the future. The 19-year-old moved to Bayern Munich in a big-money deal from Portuguese giants Benfica last summer. Sanches failed to build upon his impressive start in European football after failing to secure regular first-team football under Carlo Ancelotti last term. The teenager started a mere six games in the Bundesliga to stunt his development. While Bayern Munich confirmed that Antonio Conte has asked about Sanches, there appears to be a reluctance on the German champions’ part to sell the midfielder. The Portuguese talent is only at the start of his career so it’s no surprise that the Bundesliga champions are reluctant to give up on Sanches just yet. His performance in the Audi Cup suggested that Sanches is suffering from a lack of confidence. Only more first-team football can help him work through this sticky period. Sanches would presumably be used in a back-up role at Stamford Bridge, which would mirror his current situation at Bayern Munich. It makes a move to Stamford Bridge unlikely.
Chelsea have also been linked with a move to sign Ross Barkley. The England international is available to sign in the summer transfer window. Everton boss Ronald Koeman has already confirmed that Barkley is unlikely to sign a new contract. The 23-year-old is one of the most exciting homegrown talents in the Premier League but his career trajectory has plateaued over the past couple of seasons. Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli is now recognised as English’s next big talent. Barkley would surely relish the chance to start afresh at one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs. He is an unpolished player but has more experience than Sanches. The England midfielder’s erratic performances should concern Antonio Conte, who values consistency and professionalism. For that reason, signing Barkley would surely be a gamble unless the Chelsea boss is convinced that he can get the attacking midfielder back on the path to greatness.
If Conte is looking to sign an England player yet to deliver on his promising talent, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be a better option than Barkley. Both players are gifted, albeit in different ways. But Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown a greater consistency despite his stop-start Arsenal career. Arsene Wenger must accept some of the blame for this. The Arsenal manager has shown a reluctance to give the former Southampton forward a sustained run in the first team. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is the same age as Barkley, scored two goals and made seven assists in 16 starts and 13 substitute appearances last term. Oxlade-Chamberlain would be a more versatile option than Barkley and Drinkwater given that the Arsenal star can play at full-back, in central midfield or on the wing. Signing Oxlade-Chamberlain would provide cover in a number of positions for Conte and allow him to invest significant transfer funds in a back-up striker. The Gunners star has entered the final 12 months of his current contract, which means the England star could be available at a cut-price deal. Whether Arsenal would be willing to sell to a direct rival is another matter.
Jack Wilshere could be an outside shout for Conte. While the aforementioned quartet have all been linked with Chelsea, only Sampdoria has been listed as a potential candidate to sign Wilshere. The 25-year-old is facing a battle to salvage his Arsenal career. The England midfielder, who was once dubbed the next Paul Gascoigne, was sent out on loan to Bournemouth last season but the Cherries opted against retaining his services. Wilshere has already made it known that he wants to remain in the England capital, which limits his transfer options. Would Chelsea take a gamble on Wilshere? Well, his talent is undoubted but his fitness has derailed his Arsenal career. He could benefit from a change of scene to shake up his methods. While Wilshere has always been loyal to Arsenal, Wenger appears to view the midfielder as a dispensable player. Wilshere has previously played alongside Cesc Fabregas with great success, producing some of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt next to the Spain international. An unlikely move but Wilshere would be able to play in advanced position with Bakayoko and Kante providing the legs and muscle in deeper roles.