Chelsea made a rather high-profile change to the squad numbers they submitted to the Premier League yesterday: Romelu Lukaku is the club’s new No.9.
It was always expected that the Belgian forward would take the shirt following his return from Inter Milan for a club-record fee of £98million. There was just one rather big problem, Tammy Abraham held the number.
Abraham had been Chelsea‘s No.9 since the start of the 2019/20 campaign. Yet despite having scored 30 times for the Blues in the past two seasons, a move away from Stamford Bridge was expected this summer.
That came to fruition earlier this week as the 23-year-old, who was on the bench for Chelsea’s Premier League opener against Crystal Palace, joined Roma in a deal worth around £30million.
And so the No.9 shirt became free for Lukaku. “I have got the No.9 and I am very happy and very fortunate to be in the situation,” he said at his unveiling yesterday.
It was made official shortly after Lukaku’s press conference with Chelsea posting a short news story on their club website along with the players who’ve been assigned shirt numbers for the season ahead.
Yet it was notable that four players signed by Chelsea for big money and still at the club, were not given squad numbers for the forthcoming campaign. So what happens next for the quartet?
It’s easy to forget just how much Chelsea spent on Zappacosta when they signed him from Torino: £23million plus add-ons.
For that money, the Blues got themselves a solid yet rather unspectacular wing-back. He made 35 appearances during his first season at Stamford Bridge, which was largely spent as deputy to Victor Moses, and then 17 more games under Maurizio Sarri.
The incorporation of Reece James into the first-team squad by Frank Lampard effectively ended Zappacosta’s Chelsea career, however. He moved out to Roma on loan in the summer of 2019 but due to a knee injury played just nine games. Last term was spent with Genoa.
Zappacosta, like the others on this list, has been involved in Chelsea’s pre-season under Thomas Tuchel.
He played in the friendlies against Peterborough, Bournemouth, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and, somewhat surprisingly, was still involved in the first-team group that undertook an open training session at Stamford Bridge yesterday.
Yet the 29-year-old is still expected to depart, either permanently or on loan, and Sportitalia have reported there is interest from Fiorentina and Atalanta.
The signing of the midfielder in January 2018 from Everton always felt like one done out of opportunity rather than necessity. Chelsea were able to secure the services of an England international with plenty of untapped potential for £15million.
Injury restricted Barkley to just four appearances during his first six months at Stamford Bridge. The following campaign, he would make 48 appearances but was constantly rotated with Mateo Kovacic on the left of Maurizio Sarri’s midfield.
Lampard followed in the dugout at Stamford Bridge but was never truly convinced by the 27-year-old, which is why he was allowed to spend last season at Aston Villa on loan.
Barkley started well at Villa Park only to suffer a hamstring injury which ruled him out for two months. On his return in January, he struggled for form and left having made only 24 appearances.
“His future for the next two years is at Chelsea,” Villa boss Dean Smith said in May. “We haven’t had any discussions about that [signing Barkley permanently] and I think it would be wrong to do so given it was a one-year loan.”
Barkley returned to Chelsea for pre-season and spent three weeks working under Thomas Tuchel. He featured in the friendlies against Peterborough, Bournemouth and Arsenal but was not included in the squad against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
“It was a non-selection,” Tuchel said after the game at Stamford Bridge. Quite simply, Barkley’s Chelsea career was over.
That has been made abundantly clear over the past week. Not only did Barkley lose the No.8 shirt to Mateo Kovacic, hasn’t been assigned a new one. He has been told to find a new club.
A loan move to another Premier League side feels inevitable for Barkley, although his options are somewhat limited.
Newcastle United were linked with a move but instead signed Joe Willock from Arsenal. A switch to West Ham United – where Barkley would reunite with former Everton boss David Moyes – has been mooted all summer and would likely be the best fit for the midfielder.
But as yet, Chelsea haven’t received an approach from the Irons for Barkley, who scored a hat-trick in a behind-closed-doors game against Weymouth on Sunday.
There was great expectation placed upon Bakayoko following his arrival at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2017. He was brought in to replace Nemanja Matic in Chelsea’s title-winning midfield having helped Monaco reach the Champions League semi-finals during the 2016/17 campaign.
Unfortunately, the midfielder’s £40million signing is considered one of the poorest pieces of business done by Chelsea during the Roman Abramovich era.
Bakayoko never became attuned to the pace of the Premier League. He was cumbersome in midfield and mistakes were frequent. It was no surprise he was sent out on loan a year after he arrived.
Milan was his first temporary home. A season back at Monaco followed. Last term, Bakayoko was with Napoli and made 44 appearances. He seemed settled.
“Would he like to stay at Napoli? He is happy here, it’s a great club with a great history,” his agent and brother, Abdoulaye Bakayoko, told Radio Marte in March.
“He has not yet been able to fully experience the stadium and perhaps even the city. He is happy with this experience and is happy here.”
Bakayoko was back at Chelsea this summer for pre-season, although his return was delayed due to illness. He featured in one friendly – a 45-minute cameo against Tottenham in which he struggled – and has been told, according to The Athletic, he has no future.
A return to Italy appears most likely. Milan are understood to be in talks with Chelsea over a permanent deal for Bakayoko, but the Serie A side will not pay anything close to the fee the Blues spent on the Frenchman, who only has a year remaining on his contract.
What’s there left to discuss about Drinkwater’s Chelsea career? Signed from Leicester City for £30m on deadline day in the summer of 2017, the midfielder made 22 appearances under Antonio Conte and was then sidelined.
He only featured in the Community Shield under Sarri and was sent out on loan to Burnley and Aston Villa by Lampard, although off-field indiscretions overshadowed the little football he played.
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There was a short stint out on loan at Turkish side Kasımpasa last season before Drinkwater returned to Chelsea this summer. He undertook pre-season with the Blues and featured against Bournemouth and Arsenal, but it’s no surprise that Drinkwater has been told he will not feature under Tuchel this term.
The problem Chelsea face with trying to move the 31-year-old on is that he earns a reported £110,000-a-week. No other club is going to come close to matching that salary, especially given he’s started fewer than 30 matches over the past three seasons.
Drinkwater is perfectly entitled to sit on that contract and see out his final season as a Chelsea player. And that may be the scenario that plays out unless a club is willing to take a punt on the former Premier League winner and England international.