Chelsea may have just won their lottery this transfer season, after it was revealed that Kalidou Koulibaly, their top priority defensive target from last summer, has an agreement with Napoli that will see him leave should the Serie A outfit receive an offer of €60 million (£52 million). His agent treaded the line rather safely, saying the following to Mondo Napoli:
“Koulibaly? The transfer market is long as it will be open until August 31, something might happen before then.
“Chelsea? They are a world class team that many players would like to join but I don’t want to talk about this now.”
Although he didn’t necessarily invite Chelsea with open arms to the bidding war, he doesn’t need to. The price tag, if it is indeed true, is invitation aplenty, especially in the status the current market is in (Virgil Van Dijk for £75 million? I’m sure Liverpool had a good laugh).
Chelsea entered this past season well-shorn of their top defensive targets and having to settle on a rather ill-reputed David Luiz. In hindsight, the move worked out brilliantly. However, fact remains that the Brazilian is a risky prospect every game.
Gary Cahill, whose leadership quality was vital in the absence of John Terry from the starting lineup, is also approaching the wrong side of 30, and although his performances were largely rock-solid, there were a few shady moments here and there that the England international will not be proud of. His lack of mobility is also an issue in the Premier League, where speed is vital to keep pace with the often end-to-end affairs.
Both Cahill and Luiz will likely drop-off in form in the coming season without a proper backup to challenge them. The returning Christensen, the reborn Ake, and the still recovering Zouma could, of course, challenge the two men for their positions, but the reality is that they all have quite a bit to learn and make up in terms of experience and adapting to Chelsea’s style of play, so Conte will likely rotate them in and out and transition them fully within the team throughout the next season. If anything, they will be in a much better position to become a starting defender for Chelsea at the start of the 2018/19 season.
And all of this is why Chelsea must seize this opportunity to seal the deal for Koulibaly. There is not a better defender on the market for that price tag, and the Senegalese international’s key attributes—speed, passing, aerial prowess, physicality, taking the ball out from the back—is a perfect fit for both the Premier League and how Conte likes his team to play. And if the Blues do, indeed, acquire the 25-year old defender, the smart money would be on Cahill facing a season on the bench.