Chelsea's new big money buys
The Blues’ first two big summer signings will add some much-needed depth and flexibility to Antonio Conte’s champions
Antonio Rudiger is nothing if not a hardy soul. He has been used to meeting lofty expectations for some time now, which is a good job considering he will be filling a defensive berth for the Premier League champions which many hoped would be taken up by Milan’s new signing, Leonardo Bonucci.
Allied to the fact that adapting to English football is a steep climb for defenders in particular, Rudiger has a tricky task ahead, but those who know him don’t expect him to be fazed.
It already feels like the 24-year-old has been around for a very long time, having made his Bundesliga debut for Stuttgart back in January 2012 at the age of 18. Even then, the tall, strong and athletic Rudiger looked ready, but it’s the mental side of his game that has continually impressed the most. His maturity helped him to secure a place in the Germany squad for the 2014 World Cup, complete a move to Roma in 2015 and overcome the heartbreak of missing out on Euro 2016 with a cruciate knee ligament injury. He came back stronger, developing into one of Serie A’s best defenders, improving his passing and showcasing his adaptability in a back three as well as a four – flexibility that’ll prove pretty useful to Conte.
The rise of Tiemoue Bakayoko (below right) hasn’t been quite so steady – or at least, not until the intervention of a Chelsea legend.
When he arrived at Monaco as a teenager in 2014, some thought the midfielder was a little too relaxed, and he found it quite tough to make an immediate impact in the first-team squad.
The most celebrated turning point was the 2016 arrival of Claude Makelele as sporting director. The Chelsea old boy didn’t last very long, staying only five months after struggling to find a suitable role in the club’s management structure. Yet his impact on Bakayako, with whom he quickly formed a strong bond, was a lasting one. And Makelele didn’t mince his words, instructing Bakayoko to take better care of his body, fine-tuning his athleticism and ease on the ball. Not too long after, Bakayako chose to ditch his idyllic villa in Villefranche-sur-mer and moved into a much smaller apartment, while he started boxing during his spare time. Yet while Bakayoko is now known for his energy and physical power, he is so much more than that. “He’s a player capable of running matches,” said Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim, “of organising the team, of getting the ball moving and of winning battles.”
His ability to play on the front foot will be vital to keeping the Chelsea tempo up this term, due to the club’s busier calendar. The thought of him dovetailing with N’golo Kante – with whom he hopes to play alongside for France – at Chelsea in the same way he did with Fabinho at Monaco will be one that’ll have Blues fans salivating.