Chelsea are prioritising the signing of a central midfielder as they look to rebuild under Mauricio Pochettino, who is prepared to battle Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain for Sporting Lisbon’s Manuel Ugarte.
Pochettino’s appointment as head coach on a two-year deal, with the club option of an extra year, was confirmed on Monday and gave Chelsea a welcome boost after a troubled campaign during which Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Bruno Saltor had spells in charge. Tuesday marks the first anniversary of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital buying the club from Roman Abramovich, but there has been little to celebrate over the past 12 months.
Chelsea, who finished 12th in the Premier League despite spending close to £600m on signings, face a challenging summer. They are under pressure to cut the size of their bloated squad, although multiple sources have rejected suggestions that the need to sell players is down to concerns over financial fair play.
Either way, the transfer window is unlikely to lead to many players join Chelsea. There will be a heavy focus on sales and the recruitment team are focusing on a few key positions. Chelsea’s priorities are a goalkeeper, midfielder and striker.
They will need more depth in midfield. Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic are expected to be sold, Milan want Ruben Loftus-Cheek and there is interest in Conor Gallagher. N’Golo Kanté, who is out of contract, is yet to sign a new deal.
Chelsea will need a midfield partner for Enzo Fernández and they have turned their focus on to Ugarte. The 22-year-old Uruguay midfielder, whose contract is understood to contain a €60m (£52m) release clause, is admired by Pochettino. PSG are pushing hard and Liverpool are interested but Chelsea have a chance of winning the race.
Ugarte is on a shortlist that includes Southampton’s Roméo Lavia, Monaco’s Youssouf Fofana and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Moisés Caicedo. Chelsea like Declan Rice but there is an expectation the West Ham captain will join Arsenal.
One of Pochettino’s main challenges will be improving his team’s ruthlessness. Chelsea, who scored 38 league goals this season, are interested in the Napoli striker Victor Osimhen and the Internazionale forward Lautaro Martínez. Pochettino will need to work out what to do with Romelu Lukaku when the striker’s loan at Inter ends.
However Chelsea are determined not to panic in their search. They believe Christopher Nkunku, who is due to join from RB Leipzig, can play as a No 9. One view is the team can succeed by sharing the goals around. Brighton scored 72 league goals this season but only one of their players hit double figures.
Chelsea do not intend a repeat of the frenzied spending of the past two windows. In terms of goalkeeper’s they are interested in Brentford’s David Raya, Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martínez and Inter’s André Onana.
Along with Mount and Kovacic, players who could be sold include Callum Hudson-Odoi, Kalidou Koulibaly, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, Trevoh Chalobah, Hakim Ziyech and César Azpilicueta.
Pochettino, who will begin work on 1 July, will need to repair his squad’s damaged morale. The former Tottenham manager, out of work since leaving Paris Saint-Germain last year, emerged as the top candidate to replace Potter after a process led by the sporting directors, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley.
Chelsea spoke to Julian Nagelsmann, Luis Enrique and several other candidates but Pochettino was the only manager to receive a serious proposal. The Argentinian, who spoke to Chelsea before Potter replaced Tuchel last September, is said to be comfortable with the club’s sporting structure and looking forward to working with Stewart and Winstanley.
Pochettino has been joined by his trusted backroom staff: his No 2, Jesús Pérez, his first-team coach, Miguel D’Agostino, his goalkeeping coach, Toni Jiménez, and his son Sebastiano, a sports scientist.