Christopher Nkunku slotting in up-front, Thiago Silva marshalling the defence for another year and FOUR Argentine World Cup winners… how Chelsea could line up under Mauricio Pochettino next season as he closes in on a Premier League return
- Pochettino is set to become Chelsea’s new head coach, Mail Sport understands
- The former Tottenham boss will hope to rebuild the club after a dismal season
- Several first-team stars are likely to move on in the summer transfer window
As Mauricio Pochettino closes in on a sensational return to the Premier League with Chelsea, the former Tottenham boss will already be contemplating the long to-do list he is set to be faced with upon arrival.
The Argentine will hope to turn the club’s fortunes around after what has been a dismal and chaotic season with Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter, Bruno Saltor and Frank Lampard all taking charge of the team at points.
Chelsea are languishing in 11th place and are on course for their first bottom-half finish since the 1995-96 campaign in what has been a tumultuous first year of ownership under the Todd Boehly-led group.
The American can’t be accused of not trying to bring success to the club, spending more than £600m on 18 players across the summer and winter transfer windows, but their strategy has often looked haphazard and flawed.
This has culminated in the Blues using a whopping 32 players in total this season – the second most in the top flight behind Nottingham Forest’s 33.
Former Tottenham and PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino in closing in on the Chelsea job
The Blues have endured a disastrous season while languishing in 11th in the Premier League
It has been a chaotic first year under the Todd Boehly-led ownership group for Chelsea
The size of the squad has been so large that, at times, players have even had to get changed in the corridors of the training ground due to the dressing room not being big enough to house so many first-team stars.
Pochettino will likely want to strengthen in the summer, but he will be tasked with moving on several players to trim the squad in order to create more unity and space, along with the need to satisfy Financial Fair Play regulations, after the club posted a £121m loss last year.
This will likely lead to many high-profile departures, with academy product and fans favourite Mason Mount strongly linked with a move away, having not yet extended his contract ahead of its expiry next summer – although Pochettino is keen to keep the England man.
The club could see as many as 10 senior first team players leave, but they have also been linked with additions as Mail Sport reported how Lautaro Martinez, Emiliano Martinez, Declan Rice, Alex Mac Allister are all targets, along with the impending arrival of Christopher Nkunku for £63m.
In light of the speculation, Mail Sport takes a look at how Chelsea could line up for next season in Pochettino’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez
Despite Kepa Arrizabalaga being one of the few Chelsea players to emerge with any credit from this season, the Spaniard has generally struggled to convince since joining for £71.6m in 2018 for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper.
Chelsea are lining up Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez as a potential new No 1 for Pochettino
He has been been preferred to the injury-hit Edouard Mendy in recent months, with the Senegalese stopper linked with a departure – although he did return to the side for the weekend’s draw with Nottingham Forest.
This means a new goalkeeper could be on the agenda and Mail Sport understands Aston Villa and Argentina star Emiliano Martinez is a target.
The Golden Glove and World Cup winner has enjoyed another fine season for Unai Emery’s side, keeping 13 clean sheets this year as they push for Europe, outlining his status as one of the finest top flight No 1s
He would therefore be a top quality addition for Pochettino and Martinez has previously spoken of his desire to play in the Champions League.
However, given Villa’s likely qualification for Europe next season, along with their strong financial position, it could be a tough transfer deal for Chelsea to complete.
Right back – Reece James
Having signed three top-quality defenders this season, along with the addition of highly-rated right back Malo Gusto from Lyon, Chelsea are well set in defence for the foreseeable future.
Reece James is one of the best right backs in the top flight and will be a key player next season
Similarly, despite their dismal campaign, they have the third-best defensive record in the league, conceding just 41 goals in 35 games.
Although Reece James has struggled with injury this year, you are hard-pushed to find many better right backs in the top flight and he will be a key part of their team next season and beyond.
Centre back – Thiago Silva
The saying ‘age is just a number’ is most certainly apt for the evergreen Thiago Silva, who continues to show his quality despite being 38.
After signing a new one-year deal in February, the Brazilian has backed up his impressive form from the World Cup with more solid displays in Chelsea’s side, while he has shown leadership amid their struggles.
With an extremely young team and defence around him, Silva will provide important quality and experience for Pochettino.
Thiago Silva, 38, will continue to provide quality and experience in defence for Chelsea
Centre back – Benoit Badiashile
Many of Chelsea’s signings this season have struggled, but 22-year-old Benoit Badiashile has looked at home since his £35m move from Monaco in January.
The left-footed Frenchman provides balance to the Blues’ defence and also has the necessary pace and quality on the ball to be a big part of the side’s future.
He has become instantly popular with fans and even scored his first goal for the club against Bournemouth earlier this month.
As a result, Badiashile just edges out Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly in this XI and Pochettino will hope he can go on to fill a similar role to that of Jan Vertonghen from his Tottenham days.
Benoit Badiashile has impressed for the Blues since his £35m move from Monaco in January
Left back – Ben Chilwell
Ben Chilwell is another player who has enjoyed a respectable campaign despite the team’s wider struggles.
Chelsea have a superb record when lining up with Chilwell and James at full back and the 26-year-old will no doubt continue to improve his attacking output.
Joining James, Silva and Badiashile in defence, Pochettino will have a solid base to build upon.
Central midfield – Enzo Fernandez
The £107m British-record signing has had a baptism of fire in English football, thrown into a side badly lacking confidence and coherence.
We have seen signs of Fernandez’s best, with two sumptuous assists, and the 22-year-old will no doubt be better for the difficult experience since arriving at Stamford Bridge.
Enzo Fernandez has shown signs of his quality since his record-breaking move from Benfica
But given the outlay and his age, the 22-year-old will be a pillar of this Chelsea side under his fellow countryman.
Central midfield – Declan Rice
While it must be acknowledged that their lack of Champions League football is likely to hamper their attempts to bring in Rice, with Arsenal now the favourites for his signature, Chelsea are renowned for finding ways to complete these sorts of deals.
There is also the fact he has been continually linked with the Blues in recent years, who released him when he was just 14.
West Ham’s £100m-plus valuation of the England international could yet prove a stumbling block for the Gunners, allowing Chelsea to swoop in.
Although they are likely to face strong competition for Declan Rice, he remains a target
His strong relationship with close pal Mason Mount (right) is well-publicised, although Mount’s future at the club is uncertain
Rice is also renowned for being best friends with England team-mate and Chelsea star Mason Mount, admitting to Copa90 back in 2020 that he would ‘love to play with Mount at club level again’.
If Chelsea were able to complete the deal, Rice would provide an instant injection of quality in the Blues’ midfield, and it would be a mouthwatering prospect to see him lining up with Fernandez.
Still only 24, but having racked up 240 appearances for West Ham along with 41 caps for England, Rice would be a hugely exciting addition to Pochettino’s side.
Right wing – Christopher Nkunku
Amid the chaos and turnover of both players and managers this season, it is easy to forget that Chelsea have already agreed a deal to sign RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku in the summer for £63m.
Nkunku has developed into one of the most sought-after players in Europe during his time in Germany, scoring 35 goals across all competitions last year before adding 19 in just 33 games this season.
Having also broken into the France team, Nkunku will bring significant attacking quality to a Chelsea side that has only scored 36 goals in 35 league games; a tally fewer than that of Leeds and Leicester – two teams who lie in the bottom three.
Christopher Nkunku is set to arrive at Chelsea for a £63m fee from RB Leipzig this summer
Although his best football has generally come as a second striker, Nkunku has also played wide for Leipzig.
Pochettino will hope he can translate that form to England and not follow the path of another former Leipzig star who moved to Chelsea in Timo Werner.
Nevertheless, at just 25, securing one of Europe’s top talents is a superb piece of business from Chelsea.
Attacking midfield – Alexis Mac Allister
One of the many Brighton stars who could move on this summer after their stunning season, Mac Allister has added 10 Premier League goals to his World Cup winner’s medal at the end of last year.
Capable as a No 10 or in a deeper role, Mac Allister produced another superb display in the Seagulls’ 3-0 win away at Arsenal on Sunday.
He is likely to have several clubs to choose from this summer and similar to Rice, Chelsea will be rivalled by sides such as Arsenal and Liverpool, who will be able to offer European football.
Alexis Mac Allister would provide quality in midfield but Chelsea face competition for him
A fee upwards of £70m will be required for the 24-year-old, who could reunite with his fellow countryman Fernandez at Stamford Bridge in what would be a fascinating move.
Despite his tender age, he would bring significant top-flight experience to a youthful side and it wouldn’t be the first time Chelsea took top talent from Brighton.
Left wing – Raheem Sterling
In truth, it has been a difficult debut season for Sterling with just six league goals his worst return since 2015-16.
A £47.5m arrival last summer, the England star has shown glimpses of his talent, with an important Champions League goal against Borussia Dortmund, along with improved displays in recent weeks.
Given his pedigree, Sterling will be much better next season and is still just 28.
As Pochettino builds a young and exciting side, with several promising-but-raw attackers only arriving this year, Sterling provides important knowhow and quality.
Raheem Sterling’s experience and quality will be important for Pochettino’s side next season
Striker – Lautaro Martinez
It remains to be seen what happens with Romelu Lukaku when he returns to Chelsea this summer, with some reports stating he will be offered another chance under Pochettino, but he could be joined by current his strike partner at Inter Milan.
Mail Sport understands another Argentine, Lautaro Martinez, is a target for the club and the 25-year-old has been prolific during his time in Italy, scoring 98 goals in just under five seasons.
During the 2020-21 campaign, his partnership with Lukaku was key when Inter MIlan won the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years, with the pair scoring 41 goals between them.
A hard-working forward, which would suit Pochettino’s high-intensity style, Blues fans would hope he can solve their goalscoring problem, while there is also the chance he could rekindle his relationship with Lukaku.
With Martinez, Fernandez, Mac Allister and Emiliano Martinez, Pochettino could have four Argentina World Cup winners in his starting XI next season.
Lautaro Martinez would bring much-needed energy and goals to the Chelsea attack next year
Questions marks over their future
There is uncertainty over the future of several players at the club, with the need for sales likely to mean some first-team stars move on.
This is particularly pertinent in midfield with Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante and Mason Mount having been big players for the club in recent years.
However, Mount – who has been with the Blues since the age of six – is yet to agree a new deal with his contract expiring next summer.
Mail Sport previously reported how there is a contract stand-off between Mount and Chelsea as a significant gap exists between the parties in negotiations.
The England international – who has been the club’s Player of the Year for the last two campaigns – is keen to treble his £80,000-a-week wages, which would put him in line with his fellow senior players and new signings.
Official talks between the club and Mount over a new deal have now been delayed until the summer, when Chelsea plan to either extend the midfielder’s deal or sell him – with a £70m price tag touted – although Pochettino is keen to keep him.
There is uncertainty over the Chelsea futures of Mason Mount (left) and Mateo Kovacic (right)
N’Golo Kante is also yet to extend his contract despite its expiry at the end of this season
If he was to remain, he could well force his way into this starting XI and recapture the form that made him such a fan favourite.
Elsewhere, Kovacic has been a reliable presence for the club during his five years, but as one of the main saleable assets and with just a year left on his deal, he has been linked with a move away – including to Man City.
Meanwhile, N’Golo Kante is yet to pen a new deal despite his contract expiring at the end of the season, although it is expected he will stay and like Kovacic, he would likely remain a crucial member of Pochettino’s first team.
Whatever happens, it plans to be a busy summer for the Argentine as he tries to reshape his squad and propel Chelsea back to the top of English football.
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