While most of the Premier League has been cautious in the transfer market, Chelsea have chosen to double down in an impressive spending spree this off-season.
Not content with signing a host of potential world-beaters across the field, the Blues have turned to Thiago Silva, trusting in the Brazilian’s class and unrivalled experience to add steel to their backline.
Despite boasting strength in numbers at centre-back, Chelsea struggled immensely to plug their leaky defence across the 2019-20 season. Frank Lampard’s charges scraped fourth place to secure their spot in the Champions League, conceding 54 Premier League goals, the worst record of any side in the top half of the table.
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The onus will be on Brazil’s former captain to improve that number, having completed a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain on Friday, signing a one-year deal with the option to extend for a further season.
Intelligent, composed, strong in the air and equipped with a fantastic awareness of his surroundings, the Brazilian has been one of the most consistent performers for both PSG and his national team over the years, wearing the captain’s armband for each side as well as Milan prior to his move to Ligue 1.
Indeed, reports suggest that he could walk straight into the role for Chelsea, providing the cool head that has often been lacking at the club.
“One of the best I have seen and have played with,” was Kylian Mbappe’s assessment of his former skipper as he reacted to the news Silva was leaving PSG, adding: “You are a legend, you made your mark on the history of the club.”
However, Lampard’s Chelsea proved over 2019-20 that while they may score plenty of goals, their open style of play means an overabundance of action for those at the back. Silva will have to cope week-in, week-out with a new style of football should he go straight into the team.
Turning 36 barely two weeks after the season starts, Silva will have his work cut out in England to pick up where he left off at PSG; Blues fans would be wise to temper at least their immediate expectations.
Silva is much older than any other centre-back name mentioned in relation to Chelsea this summer. Ben White – who shone at Leeds United in their Championship promotion campaign on loan from Brighton – and West Ham’s Declan Rice have both been linked.
White is 22 and Rice 21. Neither is available easily considering Brighton and West Ham’s initial reluctance to do business and the prohibitive cost in the event of any deal being done. Each is valued north of £30 million ($40m). In that sense, Silva is a quick-fix solution.
There is no Virgil van Dijk-like figure out there for Lampard to build a remodelled defence around, a backline that will now include a £50m ($66m) left-back in Ben Chilwell. In the absence of a proven performer in the position to be signed for the long term, Chelsea are content to use a temporary solution.
But question marks remain over his suitability both to the Premier League and Chelsea’s immediate task at hand. Lampard’s centre-backs were overworked last season, no matter if it was a two or three-man solution he chose.
Too often Chelsea were overrun on the counter-attack, a weakness that arguably starts in the front line and in the midfield. By the time the danger reached the heart of the Blues’ defence, it was often too late to do anything about it.
At this stage of his career, Silva would probably have benefitted more from a move to a more methodical, tactical league. PSG play a possession-heavy brand of football and are occasionally vulnerable to breakouts when their own attacks break down.
While Silva’s reading of the game is second to none, he does not have the same physical gifts as Presnel Kimpembe, his regular partner at the heart of the Parisians defence, or Marquinhos, who would slot into the base of midfield.
Those younger players are quicker and more explosive across the grass; more adept at fire-fighting than Silva is, who would prefer to see the game in front of him rather than face his own goal.
Moreover, Kepa Arrizabalaga is currently still in situ in the Chelsea goal. It is no secret that Lampard would replace him if he could but a massive wage and a reduced resale value mean the club is stuck with him for now.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine Chelsea’s record at the back improving significantly unless an upgrade in goal can be sourced.
But Chelsea’s money has gone elsewhere – on Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and soon on Kai Havertz. It has left little room for manoeuvre at the back. And that is why the club have taken the cheap option in Silva and fellow Ligue 1 player Malang Sarr, signed for free from Nice but all set to spend the upcoming season out on loan.
The Blues have little to lose in their latest piece of transfer business, adding for nothing a central defender with close to 100 international caps and an enviable record of success to add further competition for places. That strength in depth will be key as they seek glory both at home and in Europe, with the added fixture burden that double offensive entails.
But Lampard and the club’s fans should each be wary of placing too much emphasis on this capture. Silva is a fine player, at his peak one of the best centre-backs in the game; but he will not provide a magical solution to the team’s defensive woes and will need time and patience to adapt to his hectic new surroundings.
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