Chelsea fans will no doubt be excited by the big transfer news today as it looks like a deal for Kai Havertz is edging closer.
Players already at the club will surely also see this supposedly imminent deal (according to Kicker) as good news, but some will be wondering about what it means for their place in the team, with Frank Lampard making his intentions clear this summer by already bringing in Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech.
Chelsea may have just booked their place in the FA Cup final and be closing in on Champions League qualification, but it’s little surprise that, after a transfer ban prevented them spending last summer, the Blues mean business in the transfer market again this year.
While few could be surprised by the desire to replace Eden Hazard’s quality up front with two players in Ziyech and Werner, it’s less clear where Havertz fits in, with defensive recruits perhaps looking a more urgent priority for the moment. Still, that’s not to say there’s no place for Havertz in Lampard’s squad – in fact, he can fill a number of roles to good effect, which should be a cause for worry for those fighting for places in those areas.
One imagines Havertz won’t be spending too much time in the front three, with those slots surely set to be filled by Werner, Ziyech and Christian Pulisic next season. While the latter, technically signed before the transfer ban and loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the remainder of last season, initially got off to a slow start at Stamford Bridge, he’s now surely a key part of Lampard’s plans for the future. The 21-year-old is a huge prospect and has found himself more of a regular in the starting XI lately, with nine goals and four assists a decent enough return in all competitions for his first season in England.
Lampard may be tempted to rotate of course, and is no doubt likely to be replacing Willian as well as Pedro and Hazard this summer, with more depth clearly needed in those wide forward roles. However, the Chelsea manager has also hinted at how he might use Havertz by often putting out a 4-3-3 formation with two ‘number 8’ style players in that midfield three.
This has been a slightly risky approach, with Lampard’s all-out attacking strategy leaving the Blues vulnerable at the back, with a worryingly high 49 goals conceded in the Premier League this season – the worst record in the top ten, worse than Arsenal, Tottenham and even Burnley. Still, Lampard’s hand has perhaps been forced a little due to the poor recent fitness record of N’Golo Kante.
The France international has been a hugely important player for Chelsea, and is undoubtedly one of the very finest defensive midfield players on the planet on his day. Still, this has led to speculation from the Times that he’s one name who could make way this summer to help the west Londoners fund their spending spree.
Lampard later denied this, saying, as quoted by the Guardian: “In terms of N’Golo, I’ve seen some talk and reports about him and his future at the club. I’ve said it a lot of times about N’Golo – one of the best midfield players in the world. I would have loved to be able to play with him. He has everything.” He did hint at his frustration at his recent injury trouble, though, adding: “Because of injuries it’s been tough for N’Golo … N’Golo is so important to us going forward. We need him regularly and hopefully we’ll have that now.”
It may well be, however, that Kante no longer fits in with the style of play Lampard seems to be building towards. Most Chelsea fans would agree that Mateo Kovacic’s improvement this season has been huge, and he, along with promising youngster Billy Gilmour, seem to fit the mould as a deep-lying ball-player that Lampard is looking for more than Kante does.
While it would be harsh to say the former Leicester City man is not good enough on the ball, this is a fast-evolving game at the moment and an exceptionally high quality of passing is now expected from everyone down to the centre-backs and the goalkeepers. Kante was a revelation in 2015/16 with Leicester City’s high-tempo approach, but since then someone like Liverpool’s Fabinho has arguably eclipsed him due to his high standards of both defensive work and picking out a killer ball. A better manager than Unai Emery in Mikel Arteta has also been able to coax that kind of form out Granit Xhaka at Arsenal, while Fred is also showing the potential to fill a similar role at Manchester United.
Whether it’s a midfield three of Kovacic, Mount and Havertz, or Jorginho, Barkley and Havertz or some other combination of the three next season, this seemingly imminent signing perhaps confirms what had already looked like a change at Chelsea, and one that it’s hard to see Kante being a part of.