The Ben Jacobs Chelsea column was exclusively published at SPTC on Monday!
Chelsea head to Atlanta after an encouraging 4-3 pre-season win over Brighton in Philadelphia. The players are taking well to their new 4-2-3-1 system. There’s already an identity and fluidness to the style of play.
I was particularly impressed by Nicolas Jackson, who got a goal and two assists during the game. His link up with Mykhailo Mudryk for the Ukrainian’s goal was promising and eye-catching. But I was even more struck by an animated conversation between the pair at full-time.
You can tell both players look hungry for success. They were talking about how they can work more effectively together. This might seem like a small thing to notice, right on the full-time whistle, but it shows the players are thinking about their teammates and being vocal, which is something Mauricio Pochettino has challenged Mudryk in particular to be. That kind of leadership and team ethic is going to be very important for Chelsea heading into the new season.
Christopher Nkunku looks sharp as well. His goal was an instinctive finish and was his second in pre-season. Chelsea now have nine goals in two games. Although pre-season results are not hugely important, goals are. I have also been impressed with Cesare Casadei and Carney Chukwuemeka. Both have looked lively.
We also saw Levi Colwill start and play most of the game against Brighton. Pochettino told me after the game that Colwill has the potential to be “one of the greatest centre-backs in England”. In doing so, the Chelsea manager gave the clearest indication yet that the 20-year-old is not for sale. Chelsea’s intent remains to get Colwill to sign a new contract.
Brighton’s Moises Caicedo was not involved in the friendly against Chelsea. I understand this was always the plan. Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi hinted he wouldn’t play before the game. Not too much progress has been made here in Philadelphia despite the clubs being in the same place, but it’s believed talks will continue in Atlanta.
Although De Zerbi hinted at a swap deal for Caicedo that would see Colwill go the other way, Chelsea are insisting on a straight cash deal and sticking around the £80m ballpark. The hope from those close to Caicedo is that something gives this week. Caicedo is disappointed to still be at Brighton. Those close to the player say he wants to remain professional but has made it clear he wants to move to Chelsea.
We also heard De Zerbi deny that he ever promised Caicedo could leave this summer for a reasonable offer when he extended his deal back in February. De Zerbi essentially said only Brighton owner Tony Bloom or members of the club’s leadership could make that kind of pact. However, those close to Caicedo are still adamant promises were indeed made. Either way, Caicedo’s future is now likely to resolve itself one way or the other soon. As long as Chelsea remain active on the deal they will have firm player support.
Elsewhere, I can confirm that Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise is one concrete Chelsea target. Olise spent his youth at Chelsea and is open to a move back. Manchester City (another club where Olise started his career) are also looking. Crystal Palace don’t want to sell.
There is a lot of talk about a £35m buyout clause, and it is something I am looking into for further clarity because my understanding was actually that such a clause only existed when he joined from Reading in 2021 and has since been removed.
I would also still keep an eye on Celta Vigo’s Gabri Veiga and, in defensive midfield, Southampton’s Romeo Lavia. Chelsea’s focus has all been on Caicedo but there’s plenty of time left in the window for an August flurry of 2-3 signings.
The next week or two should also resolve the future of both Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech. Neither are part of Pochettino’s plans. Lukaku’s originally-desired move to Inter has gone cold for now. Juventus and Chelsea are confident of agreeing a deal, but the Italian side will only move if they sell Dusan Vlahovic. There remains strong Saudi interest in Lukaku. Al-Hilal are hoping to persuade the Belgian striker to join even though he has in the past wanted to wait and see if he can stay in Serie A. It is understood Al-Hilal would remain interested in Lukaku even if they sign Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic – a deal that is now expected to go through.
Ziyech’s transfer to Al-Nassr collapsed following a Madrid medical. There were concerns over his knee and hip. The Ziyech camp believe this was just a smokescreen because Al-Nassr landed Marcelo Brozovic, but Saudi dealmakers insist they had concerns over his fitness leading to a restructured offer. Ziyech could have still joined, but with a base wage reduced by 40% and then appearance-based incentives and bonuses taking the package back up to the original €15m per season. Al-Ahli are one Saudi club to watch and could yet revive a deal. Chelsea will be delighted to get both players off the wage bill.
Pochettino has been clear that he wants a squad size of 25 or under. That’s why outgoings have been the big priority this window. The Chelsea boss has really made a strong impression so far. He has the right balance of authority and charm and there is a buzz about the camp here in America.
Last season has hardly been forgotten. Quite the opposite. Learnings from it are essential, but it nonetheless feels like a fresh start. And I think having Liverpool as the first game of the season is really quite helpful. It’s a focal point and a tough test to begin with. It’s a fixture Chelsea can target a statement win from. One thing Graham Potter failed to do was get results against any of the Premier League’s bigger teams.
I think I am right in saying that across the whole season, including under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea took just three points (all draws) from the other teams in the big six – and four points if we include Newcastle. Two of those came from Liverpool in home and away draws without scoring. That’s why beating them to start the 2023/24 season would be a momentum starter.