Are Chelsea simply 'making it up as they go along?'

With a ludicrous amount of money spent in the transfer market, Jake Rodrigues analyses what is going on at Chelsea.

Joao Felix

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Анна Нэсси

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Анна Нэсси

“They are in a mess and anyone who's out there and available at this moment in time, they are trying to buy to improve the team!” Chris Sutton’s frustrated comments on BBC 5 Live might well illustrate the transfer strategy adopted by Chelsea’s board with worrying accuracy. Steeped in disappointment and exasperation, the former Chelsea striker’s words seemed to be an indictment of the club’s current state. 

“They are making it up as they go along,” Sutton remarked. “They have done all season.” Sutton only played 28 times for the Blues and his time at Stamford Bridge was marred by his difficult integration into the Chelsea team and its style of play, but now, as a pundit, he is well-placed to comment on Chelsea’s disappointing season. His castigation of the situation the club finds itself in extends beyond the players that Todd Boehly has brought in, and seems to attack the management of the club since the American’s takeover. 

Chelsea's present-day signings are a shadow of the shrewd investments that facilitated the club’s former success

The sale at the end of May represented a new dawn for the London club, who had reportedly wanted to replicate Liverpool’s financial model, according to financial football expert Kieran Maguire. It is no secret that Chelsea's modern glory days came under Abramovich as a result of his monetary support, but fans would have hoped the same coordinated, often precise, spending in previous years would continue. Boehly himself had filled the position of sporting director on an interim basis. Chelsea have since turned to recruitment specialist Paul Winstanley and technical director Christopher Vivell to coordinate player movement in and out of the club. 

With fans relentlessly mocking Liverpool and Manchester United for their extortionate purchases of Darwin Nunez and Antony respectively, it is almost laughable that Chelsea are not being greeted with the same taunts. During the summer window, Chelsea spent £250m on players, including Wesley Fofana for £72m, Marc Cucurella for £58m and Raheem Sterling for £50m. 

Fofana has spent much of the season on the treatment table due to a knee injury and subsequent setback in December. Cucurella has now begun to feature for the Blues, perhaps only due to Ben Chilwell being ruled out with an injury. Sterling has only found the net four times in the Premier League this season and is now injured. Each of these transfers happened before Boehly decided to sack Thomas Tuchel and appoint Graham Potter as Chelsea manager, the latter of whom has inherited these signings. It is easy to see why Sutton thinks Chelsea ‘are making it up as they go along’! 

Just two weeks into the January window, Chelsea reinforced their defensive ranks, with the £35m signing of Benoit Badiashile from Monaco. At just 21, Badiashile is a great signing for Chelsea and for their future, but he will be playing in an already oversaturated position. Both summer signings Kalidou Koulibaly and Cucurella can both play at left centre-back. It seems to be an unwise signing for Chelsea, whose present-day signings are a shadow of the shrewd investments that facilitated the club’s success during Jose Mourinho’s first stint at the club almost two decades ago. 

Stamford Bridge

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Vespa125125CFC

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Vespa125125CFC

Chelsea celebrate lifting the Club World Cup

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Fars Media Corporation

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Fars Media Corporation

Chelsea have long since needed a player to don the Number 9 shirt with the aplomb of the past and propel the Blues back into contention for league titles. Disappointing spells for Romelu Lukaku — who, himself, had two — Alvaro Morata and most recently Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have proliferated Chelsea’s ‘Number 9 Curse’. 

With injuries to Sterling and Christian Pulisic, Chelsea had been linked to several strikers across Europe. As well as their £8m move for Molde striker David Datro Fofana on a six-year deal, Chelsea contacted Atletico Madrid to enquire about Joao Felix. The Blues agreed a loan deal for the Portuguese international for £9.7m until the end of the season. 

Graham Potter was optimistic about Felix’s arrival, as the striker “has lots of good experience and it's given [Chelsea] all a bit of a lift”. In his first game for the London club, it seemed as though Felix did not quite get the memo about the ‘bit of a lift’ that the Chelsea manager had hoped for. Although he had been the brightest spark in Potter’s dull Chelsea side before the hour mark, the Portuguese star was sent off 58 minutes into his debut after an awful challenge on Fulham’s Kenny Tete. Chelsea went on to lose 2-1 at Craven Cottage, further consolidating their miserable start to the season. Felix will now spend the best part of a month in the stands. Missing the games against Liverpool, Fulham (at home) and West Ham is worth £2.1m of his almost £10m half-season loan. 

And now, at the time of writing, the West Londoners have agreed a £70m deal to sign Mykhaylo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk, with a potential £30m in add-ons bringing the fee to the nine-digit mark. While Mudryk is a highly rated talent, and one that several top European clubs were after, current league leaders Arsenal included, he joins the long list of Chelsea forwards who have no set position in Potter’s system. The likes of Kai Havertz and recent acquisition Joao Felix play a similarly free role as something of a number 10/false 9, meaning Chelsea have yet again filled a hole that is already full instead of addressing the real problem areas in their squad. 

Chelsea desperately need a professional with strong market experience at a high-level club

Sitting tenth in the Premier League, if Chelsea are to salvage their season it will have to come from within the club. Their transfer strategy since Boehly’s takeover has been haphazard: simply throwing money at the problem will not work, not least with fickle managerial changes and desperate signings. 

Boehly’s first mistake may have been giving Tuchel his marching orders. Lacklustre Liverpool are far from their best this season, yet they have stuck by Jurgen Klopp and the Reds are a few places above Chelsea. It is hard to watch fans wholeheartedly blame Potter for Chelsea’s poor form this season, especially given that he has inherited several summer signings who neither fit his playing nor management style. 

Usually, when underachieving teams are in such a poor position, fans and clubs alike look to the upcoming transfer windows for reinforcements and, indeed, for hope. Yet, when it comes to Chelsea’s Premier League predicament, another salvo of slapdash signings might only worsen both their financial and competitive outlooks. 

Perhaps Chelsea are not quite ‘making it up as they go along’ as Sutton contends, but it is clear that they need better direction in the transfer market. They had made a move for Liverpool’s outgoing sporting director Michael Edwards, but it was reportedly rejected by Edwards himself. Chelsea desperately need a professional with strong market experience at a high-level club to find a way for them to make shrewd investments in players for the present as well as for the future. 

Stamford Bridge