With pre-season training officially underway at Chelsea we have seen some familiar faces return to the club after their loan spells concluded. One of those faces is Bakayoko, who spent last season on loan at AC Milan and impressed in Italy with ‘The Rossoneri’ – but does the Frenchman deserve a second shot at Chelsea?
It’s fair to say that Bakayoko’s first season with Chelsea was a mixed one. He did shows signs of quality with a number of strong midfield displays and also demonstrated his attacking flair with nice finishes against the likes of Huddersfield and Crystal Palace. The Frenchman made 29 Premier League appearances for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side in the 2017/18 season and was a fairly regular face in The Blues’ midfield next to Kantè and Fabregas. However, his failure to perform consistently and a number of disastrous displays (compounded by his red card in a 4-1 defeat to Watford) meant that Bakayoko was shipped off to Milan on loan last season.
The midfielder became one of the first names on Gennaro Gattuso’s teamsheet and went on to make 31 appearances in the Serie A. Despite some controversy late in the season regarding a falling out with the manager, there are no doubts that Bakayoko looked more like the impressive midfielder from his Monaco days throughout the season. The Frenchman was the only midfielder to make 2+ tackles and complete 2+ take-ons per game in the Italian league last season which shows his quality both in and out of possession and if he can demonstrate this quality in the Chelsea midfield next season then he may finally be able to repay the £40M price tag paid by the club. Bakayoko picked up three consecutive man of the match awards in November/December and went on to be described as a “sumptuous master of the midfield” and a “player rediscovered” by popular Italian outlet Calcio Mercato. His manager Gattuso claimed that he was similar to Marcel Desailly which is extremely high praise and also went on to describe his delight and surprise at Bakayoko’s tactical and positional awareness – something that was lacking at Chelsea. The passing, dribbling, tackling and awareness of the Frenchman have come on leaps and bounds in the last year and the players’ confidence has clearly done the same.
There is, of course, still questions as to wether or not Bakayoko could perform this well in the Premier League but I see no reason why he shouldn’t be given a chance to prove himself. His spat with Gattuso at the end of last season could be a blessing in disguise for Chelsea because prior to the fall-out it was expected that Milan would utilise their €35M purchase option but they have instead opted to allow him to return to Chelsea. A physical, defensive midfielder is something that The Blues’ lack in their roster since the departure of Nemanja Matic. While Kantè is a world class ball winner, he’s the only real defensive option available. Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Kovacic and Mount are all more forward thinking and technical midfield players so the inclusion of Bakayoko could provide more balance to the side. It’s easy to forget that the midfielder is only 24-years-old, just a single year older than Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He still has the potential to improve drastically and has gained key experience during his loan spell in Italy which will help him cut out mistakes and perform on a consistent basis at Chelsea.
The central midfield spot is cluttered at Chelsea currently with Frank Lampard spoilt for choice after giving all players a ‘clean slate’ to prove themselves in pre-season. Bakayoko will have to compete with Kantè, Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic, Jorginho, Mount and Drinkwater as well as any academy youngsters such as Connor Gallagher who are staking a claim for the first team. It will sure be a tough ask for the Frenchman to get into this side ahead of more established Chelsea first-teamers however he’s unique in that he can offer a more rounded box-to-box presence than a number of others and can be a strong asset at both ends of the field. While he may not have the passing quality of Jorginho or Kovacic, the goalscoring of Ruben or the stamina of Kantè – Bakayoko certainly provides something different to the Chelsea midfield and at the very least should be an option next season even if not as a starter.
Personally, My starting midfield three next season would consist of Loftus-Cheek, Kantè and Jorginho. However having Bakayoko as an option along with Matteo Kovacic and Mason Mount to add squad depth and competition will certainly give Frank Lampard a selection headache.
Follow us on Twitter! @TheChelseaEcho
Written by Dan Barker | @danbarkzr