Chelsea already making plans to strengthen squad in bid to dominate English football
Chelsea are making plans behind the scenes to ensure there will be no repeat of the implosion that followed their last championship success if Antonio Conte’s team go on to win the Premier League title in his first season in charge.
The biggest difference will revolve around the club’s transfer policy, with Chelsea getting ready for a busy summer. Virgil van Dijk, Alvaro Morata and Moussa Dembele are among their top targets.
While nothing is being taken for granted by anybody at Stamford Bridge, despite Chelsea’s nine-point lead at the top of the table, there is a determination that the lessons of 2015 will be learned and that Conte is given the best possible chance to create a sustained period of success.
While Chelsea were relatively quiet in the transfer window that followed their last Premier League triumph, the Blues are expected to be very active this summer – no matter how the title race, which is in danger of becoming a procession, finishes.
There will be changes, some forced and others initiated, with captain John Terry not expected to be handed a new contract, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic heading out and the futures of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa very much in doubt.
Having already banked £60million for Oscar and allowed Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel to leave in January, head coach Conte wants to add at least five new players to his squad at the end of the season and potentially more.
Chelsea are currently in the driving seat to land Southampton central defender Van Dijk, who has also interested Manchester City, while the January enquiry for Celtic striker Dembele is expected to be followed up with a summer bid.
The young Frenchman will not be the only striker Chelsea chase, however, as Morata remains Conte’s preferred replacement should a big bid come in for Costa, who is still interesting clubs in China and Atletico Madrid.
Monaco pair Tiemoue Bakayoko, who plays in midfield, and Djibril Sidibe, who can play in both full-back positions, are on Chelsea’s radar, while a new back-up goalkeeper will also be required to replace Begovic.
With Chelsea ready to allow Conte (above) to dramatically improve and freshen up his squad, this summer promises to be in stark contrast to 2015, when only Begovic and Radamel Falcao, on loan, arrived before the 2015/16 season started.
Chelsea won the League by eight points, but former manager Jose Mourinho wanted to make changes with John Stones, Paul Pogba and Raheem Sterling all on his wishlist to make up for the loss of big characters such as Didier Drogba and Petr Cech.
Pedro Rodriguez, who has been superb this season, arrived once the season had started and took time to settle in while a host of strange signings such as Baba Rahman, Papy Djilobodji and Michael Hector were made.
Mourinho felt he was not backed, despite the fact Chelsea failed with four bids for Stones and had an enquiry regarding Pogba knocked back, and ultimately paid with his job. The Blues finished 10th.
Chelsea are already well aware of what Conte feels he needs to bolster the squad and compete for both the Premier League and the Champions League next season, and will start work on his targets early.
Aside from Conte’s coaching and management, one of the most impressive aspects of Chelsea’s title charge has been the business they have done over the past two windows.
Last summer, around £115m was spent on N’Golo Kante, who has again been one of the players of the season, David Luiz, Marcos Alonso and Michy Batshuayi, with £25m recouped for Djilobodji, Mohamed Salah, Marko Marin and Stipe Perica.
With nobody coming in during January and the sales of Oscar and Patrick Bamford earning the club around £70m, Chelsea’s net spend for the past two windows stands at an estimated £20m.
Rather than taking a risk on someone in January, as they did in 2015 with Juan Cuadrado, who has made just four Premier League starts for the club and is on loan at Juventus, Chelsea preferred to keep their powder dry after failing with a late bid for Schalke utility defender Sead Kolasinac.
That leaves plenty of funds available for Conte and there is also room within the wage bill thanks to the departures of Ivanovic, Oscar and Mikel.
Other than simply signing players, Chelsea will attempt to head off interest from Real Madrid in goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois by offering the Belgian a new contract.
Southampton could use Chelsea’s interest in Van Dijk to try to sign Nathan Ake in the summer if the defender fails to break into Conte’s team over the remaining months of the season.
Bournemouth, who expect to tie up a summer deal for Begovic, will try to re-sign Ake, following his successful loan spell at the club, but Southampton are also monitoring the situation of the 21-year-old.