Chelsea must prioritise hunt for new left-back


Ever since Ashley Cole’s arrival at Chelsea in 2006, left-back has been a position of strength, occupied by one of the world’s best at the position.

However, Cole turns 33 in December, is out of contract at the end of the season and is noticeably not the same player that he was a couple of seasons ago. With all of this in mind, and given the club’s recruitment approach of signing young, talented players, Chelsea should be looking for the long-term solution at the position before the need becomes too great.

As things stand, the only other full-time left-back in the squad is Ryan Bertrand. A solid Premier League player, certainly, and not averse to playing on the big stage, but at this point in his Chelsea career he has not shown that he will be able to produce the level of performance required to be Cole’s successor.

What does play in Bertrand’s favour is that he is English, counts as a home-grown player and has built up plenty of experience, having played 145 times while out on loan at a number of clubs before breaking into the first team squad at Stamford Bridge. Ideally, he would continue in his current role of being a quality back-up and versatile fill-in when required. He also adds an extra dimension by filling a defensive left wing role, much in the way that Ramires does on the right.

The other options already on the Chelsea books to fill the position are Patrick van Aarnholt (currently on loan at Vitesse) and Cesar Azpilicueta, who is naturally a right back, but has filled in competently at left-back. Azpilicueta is the club’s future at right back, having had a quality debut season, but can be a solid stand in at left-back when required.

He could make a more permanent move to the left side of the defence in the future, though this is dependant on Branislav Ivanovic staying as first choice for the next few years, and Wallace returning from his loan at Inter ready to step straight into the first team squad. With all of these factors still up in the air, relying on Azpilicueta to learn the new position to such a high level is a risky strategy at best.

With Cole’s time at the club running down, and his long-term successor not yet on the club’s books, it would be beneficial for Chelsea to sign their left-back of the future now, even if it means finalising the signing in January then loaning the player out until the summer – much as the team did with Kevin de Bruyne.

So who would be the best options for Chelsea to sign in January or the summer to take over from Cole?

Luke Shaw (Southampton). Shaw has admitted that he is a Chelsea fan. He is also hugely talented, has performed admirably at Premier League level for Southampton, and counts as a home-grown player. Being able to replace England’s current left-back with England’s left-back of the future would be a smart move for both club and country.

Fabio Coentrão (Real Madrid). The Portuguese international has experience playing under Mourinho at Real Madrid, has similar versatility to Bertrand, and is currently second choice at Real Madrid, so would not be overly expensive. Mourinho’s preference for defensive full-backs could count against him.

Alex Sandro (Porto). Another international, the Brazilian is talented, young and already experienced in the Champions League. He would also fit in well with the Chelsea Brazilian contingent, and could be loaned out before joining the first team squad in the summer.

There are other options available, of course, especially given Chelsea’s budget and ability to sign some unexpected players, but what is clear is that the club need to strengthen the left-back position and have a plan in place for when Ashley Cole moves on.

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