With only a week left until a massive slam heralds the end of the transfer window, Chelsea are still looking for a central defender. Or indeed a defender of any kind.
There’s something a little bit worrying about the lateness of any deal for a player who could well find himself taking the place of a first choice central defender this season. The fact that centre back is such a specialised position and requires such a detailed relationship between defensive partners means that not having a pre-season together is really quite a big deal.
But it’s not the be-all and end-all. They can – and obviously will – work together and get better over the course of the season. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been better to get a defender in sooner.
Still, Kurt Zouma is yet to come back from injury, and if there are only two fit centre backs, John Terry and Gary Cahill aren’t a bad two to have.
It does matter that a defender joins the club this window. There is certainly a vacancy in the squad for one, and in the short term at least, Kurt Zouma won’t be around. But it probably doesn’t matter what sort of defender Conte gets in.
Option one is Conte brings in a good quality – if young – centre back. That gives him four very good centre backs to choose from once Zouma gets back, and whichever two he goes for there will be good backup.
Option two is Conte brings in a left back. That would switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and Branislav Ivanovic can be used as an experienced fourth choice centre back. Third choice until Zouma gets back. And who knows – if he gets a chance and works miracles, who’s to say he can’t hold down a first-choice place?
Option three is Conte brings in a right back and that again moves Ivanovic into the centre. Either way, Conte needs a new centre back – be that Ivanovic or a new face. And one will arrive.
But what Conte does have in the squad already is versatility. Ivanovic can play in the centre, Azpilicueta in both full back positions. But there’s also Ola Aina who can deputise – especially now that he seems to be an actual fixture in the squad – and Nathaniel Chalobah, who Conte insists will stay with the first team this season, could fill in at centre back in a pinch.
And at first glance, that’s the sort of versatility that Conte seems to be demanding of his squad. We’ve already seen Nemanja Matic play further forward than usual thanks to the protection that N’Golo Kante provides for the back four.
So that gives some scope in terms of bringing in a new defender. It doesn’t have to be a player who can only play at centre back. It doesn’t even have to be a centre back – but it does have to be a defender!