Antonio Conte has seemingly made it his mission to strengthen the heart of Chelsea’s defence before the transfer window shuts in less than a week’s time.
The Italian in fact, appears intent on raiding his homeland for reinforcements. His latest endeavours have seen two bids for Alessio Romagnoli rejected with the latter, lodged on Thursday, believed to be close to £34 million.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 25, 2016
Earlier in the summer, Chelsea were frontrunners in the hunt for Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus but the Old Lady’s valuation of their bruising centre back apparently exceeded even the budget of Blues’ owner Roman Abramovich, who is becoming a little more selective these days.
It is clear that Conte would prefer an Italian defender, or at least one schooled in his old stomping ground of Serie A.
What is not clear though, is the reason that a new big money centre-half has been identified as a priority. The West London outfit remain among the best equipped in the league in that position.
Their problem is an injury to Kurt Zouma that leaves them temporarily short of numbers rather than quality. A loan move or an experienced free agent would be the way most clubs would address the situation but then, this is Chelsea.
Back in January the club were locked in negotiations with Everton over the potential purchase of John Stones but since then urgent cries from the Stamford Bridge faithful to make a high-profile signing in that position have been few and far between.
John Terry is in the twilight of his career but his form has led to talk of him coming out of international retirement. Gary Cahill meanwhile offers both consistency and experience, while Branislav Ivanovic too, remains perfectly at home in the heart of defence, should his manager require him to move in from his right back slot.
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) August 24, 2016
Zouma, a more youthful and powerful option is believed to be six weeks away from match fitness.
With the club not in Europe this season the demands on the squad should be less and if ever there was a time to give youth a chance, with reduced risk, then this is it.
Academy product Ola Aina, is highly thought of at the Bridge but perhaps not enough for Conte to trust him in the early days of his managerial tenure.
Perhaps it is the average age of his first choice backline, 31, that is troubling Conte, or maybe it is just that he would prefer a defender experienced in defending the Italian way.
Romagnoli is just 21 and is already worshipped in Milan. He would represent not only a quality addition but also an investment for the future.
It is difficult though to see an alarming need looking at the current squad available to the former Juventus and Italy coach. If he his keen to have Abramovich push though a deal in the next few days then his options are limited.
One that seems to fit the bill uncannily would send shockwaves across London should Chelsea make a move.
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) August 25, 2016
Shkodran Mustafi is an experienced international who was developed in Serie A with Sampdoria before moving to La Liga, where Valencia currently value him at around the £32 million mark.
London rivals Arsenal are known to be close to a deal for the player, although the fee is believed to be the sticking point.
It is however less than what has just been tabled for Romagnoli and it could be a shrewd move for Chelsea to try and hijack the deal.
Mustafi would bring big-game know-how but is still only 24. Such a swoop would also greatly increase the pressure on rival boss Arsene Wenger who is under mounting pressure from his own fan base due to a lack of signings.
Chelsea have also been linked with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly but the Senegalese is reported to be valued at close at around £55 million and approaches from the London club in July fell well short of that figure.
More budget friendly options could be available closer to home with Manchester United currently carrying a number of experienced defenders deemed surplus to requirements by Jose Mourinho. Phil Jones is available but his injury record is likely to be a key factor in deterring potential bidders.
A much more suitable target meeting Conte’s profile would be Italy International Matteo Darmain.
— The Sun Football (@TheSunFootball) August 17, 2016
The right-back has lost his place at Old Trafford and could provide experienced cover with Ivanovic moving inside. The major stumbling block would be whether United would allow the player to move to a rival club.
It remains to be seen how intent Abramovich is on delivering a signing for his manager before deadline day but neither a third offer for Romagnoli, or a late swoop for Mustafi should be ruled out.