Entering this summer, Chelsea knew they wanted a young, experienced centre-back to come in and refresh their defence.
A lot of names were linked, but Chelsea eventually set their sights on Sevilla’s Jules Kounde – whom 90min understands is one of the club’s top targets – and the hope is that the Spanish side will do business for less than his £68m release clause.
However, without even trying, Chelsea have since found themselves a new, young defender to solve their problem, and his name is Trevoh Chalobah.
With a lot of senior options unavailable in pre-season, the 22-year-old academy graduate was given the chance to impress. And after shining against both Tottenham and Arsenal, Chalobah was surprisingly given the nod to start in the Super Cup.
A composed, dominant performance against Villarreal in Belfast saw Chalobah earn his next test; a Premier League debut on opening weekend against Crystal Palace. It was a test he passed with flying colours. Chalobah was a rock at the back and even popped up with a worldie of a strike that left him so overwhelmed that he collapsed in a flood of tears.
His emergence begs the question: do Chelsea really need another centre-back?
Before his league debut dream, the plan was for Chalobah to head out on another loan. Valencia are known admirers, but there has been interest from all across Europe as well. The hope was that Chalobah would leave and develop while potential new signing Kounde slotted into the Blues defence.
The problem on Thomas Tuchel’s table now is that he simply cannot tell Chalobah that he does not deserve the extra spot in Chelsea’s squad.
This is an academy graduate who has been patient, jetted out on loan to rack up 112 appearances in senior football, before returning and meeting every challenge set of him so far. He has done more than enough to deserve a shot under Tuchel.
Taking that new centre-back spot away from Chalobah and handing it to Kounde just doesn’t feel like an option right now.
In an ideal world, Tuchel could find a way to fit both Chalobah and Kounde into his back line, but again, that’s not going to happen. Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta all deserve minutes at centre-back, and Kurt Zouma is still at the club while his proposed £25m move to West Ham continues to stall.
You can’t add two more centre-backs to that group, so as much as Chelsea would love to sign Kounde, they must not bring the Frenchman in as that would likely force Chalobah out of the club on a permanent basis. He has two years left on his contract and probably wouldn’t take kindly to being told he still hasn’t earned a spot at Stamford Bridge – that message would also be heard by the rest of the academy.
Chelsea’s youth setup is already navigating stormy seas after Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi, Lewis Bate, Dynel Simeu, Tino Livramento and Myles Peart-Harris all decided that the pathway to the first team that had opened under Frank Lampard is gone, and Chalobah’s exit would only exacerbate things.
Imagine Chelsea tell Chalobah, who has shone at every level he has played at, that even he can’t be offered a senior spot, why would anyone in the youth setup at Cobham ever have faith in the process again?
If Kounde is still available next year, when Silva could leave and Rudiger would be flirting with 30 years old, then Chelsea could reignite their interest. But the stars simply haven’t aligned this summer and a deal doesn’t make sense.
Next year, a spot for Kounde may well open up, and if it does, Chelsea should be all over it. He’s one of the best young defenders on the planet. But this is Chalobah’s time and he must be given all the backing in the world to fulfil his potential.