Supply and demand are all out of sorts as Chelsea approach the marketplace for left backs. Marcos Alonso is rightly in demand, but Chelsea cannot sell him unless and until their absolute ideal replacement – whoever that may be – is at Stamford Bridge.
Frank Lampard suggested on Friday that he is open to Chelsea selling Olivier Giroud as long as the club first bring in another striker. If Lampard is that adamant about conditioning the sale of a player so far down the depth chart that only Willy Caballero and a bunch of development team kids have fewer minutes than him in the first team, then he cannot permit Chelsea to act on any offers to sell Marcos Alonso.
Alonso has been near the top of Inter Milan’s transfer rumour mill for the last month. Antonio Conte is using a 3-5-2, and while the front and back of his formation are firmly in place he is still tailoring the suit across the midfield, including his wingbacks. Alonso is one of the world’s best left wing-backs because of Antonio Conte, so the interest from both parties is understandable, especially with Inter Milan leading Serie A.
But Chelsea’s situation at left back is just as shaky. Alonso and Emerson have traded places in the starting XI throughout the season, and more recently have been trading places in the matchday squad as Cesar Azpilicueta has become the starting left-back.
Fewer than 200 playing minutes separate Emerson and Alonso. Over 1,000 separate them from Azpilicueta.
Alonso’s only appearance since halftime against Ajax on November 5 was as a wing-back when Frank Lampard deployed a 3-4-3 against Tottenham in mid-December. Alonso was one of the players of the match. He became the perfect counter-example for anyone who says a lack of playing time inevitably, understandably and excusably leads to a subpar performance upon return due to match sharpness.
His immediate return to oblivion indicates that he does not have much future at Chelsea as a left back. But it’s hard to say Emerson has much more, and at least Alonso has the wing-back card up his sleeve. There are specific tactical situations where Lampard could need Alonso. Even if you think Emerson is a better left back, he’s never a necessary component of a side or system. Like the rest of the transfer class of 2017/18, he’s not raising the ceiling of the team.
Because of the unsatisfactory situation between Emerson, Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta, a new left back is one of Chelsea’s major needs in this transfer window. Of course, it has been one of Chelsea’s major needs in every transfer window since Ashley Cole left. Only thanks to the grace of Cesar Azpilicueta have the Blues not been in a full-blown crisis at the position.
With Chelsea so shallow at left-back, they cannot let either Emerson or Alonso leave until they bring someone in.
But they can’t let Alonso, in particular, leave until they bring in someone who has the quality to change the game in at least a few specific situations. Emerson and Alonso may be a toss-up in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3. The same would go for a generic left back brought in to replace Emerson. Marcos Alonso, though, can make the difference in a 3-4-3. Until they have another left back who can be that important and that pivotal in some tactical sense, in some way that definitively gives Chelsea an edge and Frank Lampard more to work with, they have to reject Inter Milan’s entreaties.
There are few full-backs on the market who are decisively better than any of the existing three options. Those few are the only ones who would be able to raise the ceiling of the squad. Unless Chelsea can buy one of them this month, they need Marcos Alonso to finish the season in Blue.
Inter Milan see what they need on the market, but Chelsea cannot say the same. That dependency has to be satisfied before any deal can go through.