There was some surprise among Chelsea fans when news broke this week that the Blues were interested in signing highly-rated Internazionale full-back Achraf Hakimi.
The Moroccan international has already attracted an offer from Paris Saint-Germain thought to be in the region of £60million, therefore the Blues face some stiff competition.
Hakimi was a key player for Inter last season en route to their first Serie A success in 11 years. Under different circumstances, the Italian champions wouldn’t be keen to sell him, yet they’re one of the biggest clubs to have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic with their Chinese owners, Suning, having already been forced to sell 23% of the company’s shares to state-owned investors in a bid to improve its equity structure.
The likely upcoming fire-sale of their top players was reported to be the driving force behind Antonio Conte’s decision to walk away at the end of the campaign.
At this stage, it’s not clear where Hakimi prefers to be his next destination, yet Chelsea would surely be hoping that their recent Champions League success may be enough to help attract the 22-year-old to Stamford Bridge.
At first glance, it’s an unexpected move in the market from the Blues, who do already have an elite right wing-back at the club in the form of Reece James. A case can even be made that he’s got an able deputy in Callum Hudson-Odoi who, despite being a more traditional right-sided attacker, has shown an ability to perform in the wing-back role adequately.
Yet despite that, the latter doesn’t seem to have fully won over the support of Thomas Tuchel, and could even be sold in the summer should a suitable offer come in.
There’s little chance of James following him out the exit door, but the potential arrival of Hakimi may see the England international’s role within the squad altered and developed more towards being Cesar Azpilicueta’s long-term successor on the right of Tuchel’s favoured back-three formation.
Notably, Conte deployed a similar set-up at Inter last season, and it’s one in which Hakimi notably thrived in.
He linked expertly in one-twos with attackers ahead, utilised his bursting pace when making either overlapping or underlapping runs, but also crucially had the final ball delivery to match his scintillating attacking play.
He registered nine league assists last season, the most for any right-sided wing-back in the division. With 0.23, he also had the joint-highest expected assist per 90 minutes average in the league too.
The summer window is officially open and now the Blues can look to build on European glory and bolster the squad to push for Premier League supremacy.
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But not just a creator of goals, he also chipped in with an impressive seven of his own – all of which came in open-play.
The above means he finished the campaign with a standout 16 goal contributions. While James and Hudson-Odoi have illustrated plenty of ability and potential when playing as right wing-backs, neither seems to offer the same level of threat, and this is perhaps best highlighted by the fact that they only managed nine direct goal contributions between them.
On that basis, it’s a move that makes plenty of sense and it’s clear why Tuchel wants to bring him in.