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Chelsea focus on set-piece specialist after quiet transfer window

Djordje Petrovic, Axel Disasi, Fitness Coach Will Tullett, Thiago Silva and Enzo Fernandez of Chelsea during a training session at Chelsea Training Ground on February 2, 2024 in Cobham, England

The biggest clue that Chelsea were set for a quiet transfer deadline day was that co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali was conspicuous by his absence at the club’s Cobham training ground on Thursday.

Eghbali spent the final week of the summer window camped at Cobham as Chelsea wrapped up a late deal for Cole Palmer, having based himself at the training ground on deadline day last January when the Blues set a new British transfer record by signing Enzo Fernández.

But Chelsea had already decided they were not about to set a new transfer record for a third successive window this year and Eghbali decided he was not needed to oversee Armando Broja’s loan move to Fulham that could earn the Stamford Bridge club up to £4 million.

Broja is valued at £50m by Chelsea, which no club was willing to pay in January, and yet Fulham will not have to pay the full £4m loan fee if he starts 60 per cent of their remaining games. A good second-half of the season at Craven Cottage will give Chelsea a better chance of attracting bids close to their asking price.

Broja is valued at £50 million by Chelsea, which no club was willing to pay in January, and yet Fulham will only have to pay the striker’s wages if he starts 60 per cent of their remaining games. A good second-half of the season at Craven Cottage will give the Blues a better chance of attracting bids close to their asking price.

Chelsea spent £105 million on Fernández 12 months ago and £115 million on Moisés Caicedo in the summer, but decided before the January window opened that they were not going to activate Victor Osimhen’s release clause, which is thought to be worth over £110 million, last month.

Enzo Fernandez of Chelsea
Enzo Fernández joined Chelsea for £105 million last January - Getty Images/Vince Mignott

Like most Premier League clubs, Chelsea had to pay careful attention to profit and sustainability rules but there also appears to be a recognition that mistakes were made last year, which the club simply cannot afford to keep repeating.

Chelsea paid a premium to land both Fernández and Mykhailo Mudryk, who joined in a deal worth up to £88.5 million, and, while there remains a belief that both players will fulfil their potential, neither has yet justified their fee.

There were players Chelsea could have taken similar gambles on this year, such as Viktor Gyökeres, who has been prolific this season in Portugal but only scored regularly in the Championship in England, but he was never properly considered.

Interest in Aston Villa’s young striker Jhon Durán was curtailed by an injury and Chelsea can now reassess their targets closer to the summer, when they believe fees and wage demands will be more reasonable.

Osimhen is likely to be among Chelsea’s top targets in the summer, when the club may find his release clause more palatable if they can earn money on sales, while more strategic moves to enhance the productivity of the team are already being planned.

Less than 24 hours after the January transfer window shut, head coach Mauricio Pochettino offered a glimpse into how the club are preparing for the summer market by looking at potential set-piece specialists.

Chelsea have scored only five times from set-pieces in the Premier League this season, which is four fewer times than Sunday’s opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers and nine less than Arsenal, who have netted the most goals from corners and free-kicks.

Arsenal recruited a set-piece specialist from Manchester City to boost their numbers, but Pochettino insisted that Chelsea’s modest return from free-kicks and corners is a reflection of the club’s squad, rather than a coaching issue.

“We work a lot on set-pieces,” said Pochettino. “After that, it is about the quality of the player. It is about the takers. We don’t have a specialist. Maybe Chilly [Ben Chilwell] is good in the delivery, but, after that, we don’t have a specialist. If you want to be good on set-pieces, we work a lot, then you need good takers. Wolves have good takers, like Manchester City have or other clubs. It is not down to the work. We work similarly, but the problem is to have good takers.

Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino of Chelsea
Mauricio Pochettino: 'It is about the quality of the player' - Getty Images/Darren Walsh

“We are a coaching staff in charge of everything. You can have a specialist and you can promote the specialist. Or you can have the specialist and not promote the specialist. It depends how you want to sell the idea of working on set-pieces. We have a specialist, we have a group of analysts for set-pieces, we have the coaching staff and we work a lot. And then it is about the quality. At the moment, we were talking about trying to find a good specialist for next season.”

At Southampton, Pochettino managed James Ward-Prowse, who has already made an impact at West Ham United by assisting five times from corners and free-kicks, which is the most by an individual player in the League.

“Look before at West Ham and after,” said Pochettino. “What changed? After and before? It’s not the same. The taker is Ward-Prowse. Or he is Pochettino, no? Prowsey is a much better taker than me. For sure, you can work, like West Ham were working. But now, you add a player like him, you increase the percentage. That is football. Football belongs to the players. Not to the specialists.”

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