Following Tammy Abraham’s injury and subsequent dip in form around the turn of the year, Chelsea were left in a very difficult situation: Frank Lampard was forced to pick between two centre forwards severely lacking in game time and match sharpness.
The first to be given a run out was Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian striker has long been seen as an impact substitute, with his 5 league goals in the 2016/17 season coming at a rate of one every 47 minutes! However, Michy had a nightmare in our 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United, missing two straightforward chances, and he looked completely shorn of confidence.
Lampard then turned to his World Cup winning forward, Olivier Giroud, to fill in up front, and he did not disappoint. Fantastic strikes against Tottenham and Everton left him with 2 goals from a run of 3 consecutive league starts. His excellent holding up of the ball and link up play has been evident whenever he has played this season, but at 33 years of age and with limited game time since joining the club, Giroud was rumoured to be wanting a move this summer, with Inter Milan and Lazio interested. Reports have recently suggested that he has agreed to a one year contract extension with the Blues, but whether Giroud stays or goes, it is clear that his team mate Batshuayi is not of the quality to play for Chelsea and should be moved on if a suitor can be found in the window. This would leave a gap for a striker at the club, and in my eyes it is clear who we must bring in.
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Receiving the ball outside the area, Dries Mertens took two touches to get it out of his feet and then curl it past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to put Napoli ahead against Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, his sixth goal from six starts in the competition. At 32 years old the Belgian clearly still has plenty to offer, with his 10 goal contributions in 21 Serie A appearances (only 12 have been starts) further proving the quality he still possesses. A versatile forward, Mertens can play as a centre forward, a left winger or as a second striker, meaning that he can plug several holes in the Chelsea front line.
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Amazingly Napoli have allowed him to run down his contract such that he is free to leave this summer, a situation which must have most of the top clubs in Europe interested. Clearly a strong finisher, with shooting from outside the box one of his strengths, Mertens is also very creative and has made an average of 1.8 key passes per Serie A game. On top of these traits he is a strong tackler and is good at tracking back and winning possession. So far it seems that Mertens would be the perfect fit, so why have Chelsea been unable to tie him down to a deal? Heavily linked with a move to Stamford Bridge in January, the Belgian decided to stay in Naples in order to beat Hamšík’s club record for goals scored (121 in all competitions). Thanks to his curled against Barcelona after the window closed, Mertens was able to draw level with the Slovakian midfielder’s tally, but has been unable to better it given the indefinite halt to the season caused by the corona virus pandemic. How big a problem will this be in securing his signature? If Serie A is able to continue then Mertens should secure the goal record outright, but if the Italian league goes the way of the Eredivisie and Ligue 1 in cancelling the season, then how big a stumbling block will that prove to be? There is no way for us to be sure but supposedly Lampard has kept in contact with his target, with ‘almost daily’ phone calls (according to Italian transfer expert Vincenzo Morabito), which should offer Blues’ fans some encouragement.
Given Mertens’ goal scoring record, creativity, versatility and his availability on a free this summer, Chelsea must make sure they get his signature, and quickly, as a player of his quality will have plenty of suitors. The Belgian will not necessarily have to play second fiddle to Abraham, because if Lampard deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation then Mertens would be an excellent pick in the central attacking midfielder role, where his impressive creativity would come to the fore and he could arrive late in the box to finish off moves. Alternatively, Lampard could play Mertens as a second striker in games against low blocks: Tammy’s excellent link up play and the Napoli man’s trickery could prove to be the solution to Frank’s nightmare of breaking down stingy defences. Even if he is a back up centre forward or winger, he would be extremely dangerous off the bench, with his pace a nightmare for tiring defenders. The experience that he would bring to a youthful dressing room could also be crucial, as he could prove to be a role model for his younger team mates. Signing Mertens would be an excellent bit of business for Chelsea and one which the fans’ are begging for. Whenever the new season starts, with Mertens in our ranks, Chelsea will be a much more well-rounded squad, ready to push on and improve.
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Written by Daniel New