Should Chelsea re-sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth?
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What stands out immediately about Nathan Ake in the footballing rather than coif department? One of the best ball-playing defenders in the Premier League, the 24-year-old is the key man in Eddie Howe's Bournemouth backline. His defensive capabilities are the foundation on which his intelligent, creative build-up play is built. His departure would leave the Cherries with big boots to fill. Howe wants him at Dean Court for the long term. However, Bournemouth's chances for silverware are slim, limited to a deep FA or EFL Cup run. If Ake is more ambitious, a return to Stamford Bridge's familiar confines could be on the cards.
Reports suggest that Chelsea are expressing a renewed interest in the Dutch-born defender when their transfer embargo expires next summer. He wouldn’t come cheap, his valuation expected to be over £75 million. The move appears likely to happen with Frank Lampard's focus on homegrown youth. Ake would be immediately at ease alongside fellow academy graduates Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi. If given the chance, there’s no doubt the Dutch international would be tempted by a bigger club. He also has a point to prove to Chelsea.
Lampard must remember the defender from his playing days at the Bridge. Known for his work ethic, professionalism and gifted technique, Ake would have no trouble fitting into a back three or four when Frank rotates from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3. The versatile defender can play at left-back and in holding midfield too.
The option of a more advanced role might be explored. He offers enough technically to be given the chance but he would be competing with already established midfielders, making it more difficult to earn a start in the position.
Competition for places anywhere is high. Chelsea boast quality options for the back two positions. Kurt Zouma and Tomori appear favoured by the boss although the latter lacks experience in the top flight. Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen are solid rotation options. If Lampard opts to stick with a back three then another option should be added. Ake's presence creates a selection headache but the Blues compete across multiple competitions.
The Champions League matches are a new experience for the academy players. Experienced heads such as Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta will be vital in the latter stages. That might open more Premier League and FA Cup opportunities in Lampard's rotation.
Unlike his predecessors, expect Lampard to blend youth with experience even when the club can sign new players. Inactive during the January transfer window, they could miss out altogether on high calibre players like Ake, especially if Bournemouth settle into mid-table safety with no prospects for European football or danger of relegation.
Chelsea will cross that bridge when they come to it, however. Overhauling the squad threatens the progress they are already making. The Blues successful youth policy ought to encourage the club to continue searching for and unearthing gems. Players can now hope to be fast-tracked into the first team rather than caught up in a loan system that is mostly trial and error for the majority. In turn, that should please exiled owner Roman Abramovich who had already scaled back his annual investment in the transfer market.
Every once in a while, a major setback proves to be the best thing that could have happened.