Christian Pulisic recently claimed that “nobody even noticed me” on his first day with the Chelsea squad. As the Blues’ summer transfer strategy begins to take shape, he could be forgiven for wondering if that is still the case.
The coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty in the financial planning of many clubs, but Chelsea are so far taking a purposeful and proactive approach to their decision-making.
Timo Werner’s imminent acquisition was a smart piece of opportunism after Liverpool hesitated in meeting the RB Leipzig forward’s release clause. The subsequently swift agreement on a five-year contract worth up to £200,000-a-week is a further sign of their resolute will to challenge for the Premier League title.
Werner will join Hakim Ziyech, a £38 million signing from Ajax, but Chelsea are not done there. They are actively pursuing another attacking player with Kai Havertz now the most likely candidate, as senior figures at Stamford Bridge act in the belief Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is destined for Manchester United. A loan move for Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho remains possible, but Havertz is seven years younger and available for a similar permanent fee — around £75m — a fact that has also not gone unnoticed by United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
There is no guarantee Chelsea will be able to sign another attacking target, but the mere fact they are pursuing several targets highlights Frank Lampard’s dissatisfaction with his current options — a situation that could make Pulisic feel like the forgotten man all over again.
Lampard has repeated one clear message in video sessions with the first-team squad at Cobham: move the ball quickly. The 41-year-old has rotated formations between 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 during his maiden season in charge of Chelsea but, no matter how they line up, Lampard views speed in transition as vital to success. It is a key reason why Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi were preferred in attack while Olivier Giroud was made to wait an eternity for his chance; both players are more mobile, able to stretch defences by running in behind and opening up more space for wingers coming in off the flank.
Lampard has long wanted an upgrade in his preferred mould: a quick, incisive forward whose sharp movement will create almost as many opportunities for his teammates as it will for himself. He also needed a proven track record in front of goal. Werner and Lyon’s Moussa Dembele fit the profile, the former proving an easier deal to conclude.
And so, with Ziyech’s arrival already confirmed, suddenly two of the three attacking positions in Lampard’s preferred 4-3-3 shape appear occupied. Indeed, Werner could even play off the left with Abraham through the middle. Pulisic already faces a fight to prove himself part of Lampard’s first-choice lineup even without Havertz, Sancho or Coutinho joining the club.