Chelsea’s headline-grabbing struggle to find a replacement for wantaway striker Diego Costa has masked the fact they have made two very astute signings in versatile centre-back Antonio Rudiger and midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.
If a practical solution to the Costa situation can be found swiftly, this will significantly strengthen manager Antonio Conte’s hand as he makes a play for Champions League glory in addition to the three domestic trophies contested last season.
Far from being a panic buy, Germany international defender Rudiger had been on the Blues’ wanted list prior to last summer’s Euro 2016. A knee injury sustained in training shortly before the competition kicked off ruled out a move to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea eventually secured the services of David Luiz to bolster Conte’s central defensive options.
The loss of veteran captain John Terry to injury shortly after the arrival of Luiz saw Conte opt to field Cesar Azpilicueta as a centre-back and along with Gary Cahill, this triumvirate proved pivotal to the success of the Italian’s 3-4-3 system which revolutionised the Premier League and brought title glory to the Bridge.
Rudiger, who is comfortable at both centre-back and right-back, will offer Conte the same versatility as Azpilicueta and it will be interesting to see in Chelsea’s forthcoming preseason fixtures against Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan how the Blues’ boss opts to deploy the duo.
Having paid Roma £34.2 million for Rudiger’s services, it’s hard to imagine the 24-year-old clicking his heels on the Chelsea bench. That said, it’s where striker Michy Batshuayi spent much of last season irrespective of the fact he’d cost a similar amount of money when joining from Marseille just over a year ago.
With 17 Germany caps to his name, at the onset of a season that will culminate in the World Cup tournament in Russia, Rudiger will have sought assurances from Conte regarding a place in his first choice starting XI.
The same can be said of Bakayoko a £40m acquisition from Monaco. The 22-year-old France international made his mark with the Ligue 1 side last term, winning the league title and featuring in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Bakayoko’s potential pairing in central midfield with fellow countryman N’Golo Kante looks irresistible. Both players have boundless supplies of energy and box-to-box attributes which in tandem will make Chelsea an even greater force to be reckoned with than they were in Conte’s maiden season.
Shielding a backline reinforced by the acquisition of Rudiger, the Bakayoko-Kante combination will make the Blues a difficult proposition for opposing sides to break down, meaning the potential to secure clean sheets improves markedly.
Consternation may well be Conte’s middle name at the moment given the ongoing Costa drama and the failed bid to sign Romelu Lukaku, but the 47-year-old will secretly be delighted about the opportunity that the presence of Rudiger and Bakayoko presents to iron out the defensive fragility which cropped up occasionally last season.
While it’s true that the “loss” of Lukaku to Manchester United was irksome for all connected with Chelsea, the fact remains that owner Roman Abramovich has the financial muscle to make sure that the next big-money striker the Blues angle for doesn’t get off the hook so easily.
Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero is the latest hotshot to be linked with a move to the Bridge, a fanciful notion perhaps along with bidding for Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal. Never say never when Chelsea are involved, although it seems more likely the pursuit of prolific Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is more likely to come to fruition if Abramovich is seeking a short-term fix for the problem created by Conte and Costa falling out.
The Brazil-born Spain international, who has not joined up with the Chelsea squad for preseason training and has been photographed wearing the shirt of his former employers Atletico Madrid, has almost certainly played his last game for the Blues.
Tempestuous Costa may be, but his goals have fired Chelsea to the Premier League title twice in three years and while Batshuayi may yet come good, in Conte’s eyes it seems the 23-year-old Belgium international isn’t the right type of striker for the type of football he advocates.
The clock may be ticking down to the start of the season, but Chelsea are perhaps in far better shape than it may seem.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC’s Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco