The last few days of the remaining transfer windows are when things get sillier than ever. Chelsea could do few things as patently silly as loaning Michy Batshuayi to Napoli, or anywhere else.
Some rather unreliable sources starting peddling the rumour late yesterday that Chelsea were working on a season-long loan at Napoli for Michy Batshuayi. These appeared around the same time as a renewed spurt of chatter about Tiemoue Bakayoko’s loan return to AS Monaco, who have won one point out of three games this season and can obviously use any help they can get.
Batshuayi has been bandied about in the loan rumours this summer, but nothing has reliably linked him to a particular move, for good reason: he is one of only three strikers currently at Chelsea. If the Blues loan him they will be restricting themselves to single-striker tactics and will always be just one injury or suspension away from having no back-up to a 21-year old or a 32-year old.
The age gap between Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud should be a yellow flag in itself. One has potential and one is proven, but neither are in prime condition to go 90 minutes multiple times a week if necessary.
From a squad management perspective – both within a season and across several seasons – having a mid-career player in support of players at either end of the age scale provides flexibility and stability. Young and old players have different needs for recovery and rotation, physical and mental. This can be complementary when everything is going well, but can become a dog’s breakfast when fixture congestion, injuries, slumps and the rest converge. Players at the extremes of the age scale bring well-defined attitudes and perspectives to the pitch and the locker room, but players in the mid-range by nature have a tempered, middle ground outlook.
This is much the same conversation that went around Chelsea last season in preparation for Eden Hazard’s departure. There’s a lot of space in every way between Callum Hudson-Odoi on one end and Willian and Pedro at the other. Christian Pulisic has a mid-range of experience given his early start at Borussia Dortmund, but this is another area on the pitch where the Blues do not have a player in his prime years and the perspective that comes from being in that span.
And that is all separate from the tactical and technical options Michy Batshuayi provides that either or both of Abraham and Giroud do not.
Without Michy Batshuayi, Chelsea will have to turn to back-up options with many greater ripple effects on the club.
My colleague Gabe recently suggested Ruben Loftus-Cheek as a potential striker. Loftus-Cheek has many attributes that could make him productive leading the line, but it is not the best use of his talents. Chelsea are already having trouble dribbling the ball aggressively from deep through the midfield onto the attack, something Loftus-Cheek excels at and could instantly provide to the Blues.
The midfield also needs new options to cover Jorginho and partner N’Golo Kante. Loftus-Cheek is one, particularly with Mason Mount or Ross Barkley ahead in the more strictly attacking role.
The club could also use him as a left winger if he returns before Callum Hudson-Odoi, or as an alternative to Hudson-Odoi once they are both available. On the wing, Loftus-Cheek would do a job similar to what Mason Mount did against Norwich City but with more width and a better ability to advance the ball up the touchline himself.
Chelsea need Loftus-Cheek in midfield once he is back in the lineup: either his standard role or in a modified role where he has a skill set the Blues are acutely missing. They have enough gaps for him to cover without creating another one by loaning Michy Batshuayi.
The other alternative in the absence of a striker is a false-nine.
Without Eden Hazard, the best option might be Ross Barkley or – half banter, half serious – Marcos Alonso. Alonso had some of his best moments last season when he would come into the box to join the attack. In 2017/18, when the Premier League had Chelsea’s set-up fully figured out and blocked Alonso’s contributions on the flank, he adapted by coming towards the box, looking for a late cut-back or a loose ball that he could send in as a pass or shot. His aerial game is among the best on the team, and as long as Frank Lampard stays with a four-man defence, Alonso will probably stay behind Emerson on the depth chart.
None of these are particularly attractive options. All we can do is talk about which are the best, acknowledging it’s a pretty low ceiling.
The Blues have enough constraints on the team and the squad this season as it is. Loaning a player, even one who is bafflingly underrated by Chelsea coaches despite what seems to be consistent productivity at the club and in two of his three loans, is needlessly inviting risks and the prospect of having to choose the least bad option.
Chelsea won the first few months of this transfer window. Hopefully they can take that streak through the final three days and give Lampard the best set of options currently at their disposal.