Dewsbury-Hall starts, Gallagher sold - Dream Chelsea midfield after next Enzo Maresca transfer

Chelsea midfielder Moises Caicedo challenged by Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
-Credit: (Image: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Before any transfer exits - either temporary or permanent - are completed, and they surely must and will be, Chelsea have eight obvious central midfielders in their squad. That is without considering the arrival of Omari Kellyman, who is attack-minded, but a midfielder nonetheless.

Of those eight, three haven't started a game for the club yet. Outside even this group are several of Cobham's finest, who are among the most highly rated in the academy and have started - each at their own level - to knock on the first-team door either in training or with appearances on the bench.

This is the state of play that Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall will arrive into. £292million worth of committed transfer fees on midfielders already under the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital ownership. The British transfer record shattered twice in the process, another £19million on Kellyman, £30million more on Dewsbury-Hall, and a goldmine of talent below the surface.

Cesare Casadei has been on two loans (one at Leicester with Dewsbury-Hall for just over six months last season), as has Andrey Santos. Both are expected to get a chance this summer under Enzo Maresca to prove themselves worthy of a spot in the squad.

Lesley Ugochukwu was expected to go out on loan after arriving just over 12 months ago but stayed and acted as cover for Romeo Lavia after his injury. The Frenchman was then ruled out for almost seven months himself and has come back to even more competition.

Enzo Fernandez will return after the Copa America rejuvenated to make the most of his second full season at Stamford Bridge having played through pain leading up to his operation earlier this year. Moises Caicedo turned a shakey start around under Mauricio Pochettino to look the part for most of his debut campaign at the club, and it was all underpinned and supported by the tireless willing role played by Conor Gallagher beneath it all.

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Carney Chukwuemeka has hardly played since his move in 2022 but is still one of the best prospects in his position in the country. Not all of these players can stay at Chelsea next year and survive, even with the addition of European football.

Things are complicated by the system that the new manager will now play. On paper Maresca selects in a 4-3-3, which allows space for just three of the candidates listed. Even with rotation there are going to be some disappointed members.

When Chelsea have the ball things will shift to a 3-2-5 in possession. Often this involves one full-back coming centrally into midfield, the other slotting into an effective back-three, and then two of the initial midfield options pushing up into No.8 or No.10 spots behind the frontline.

Chelsea's issue is that their two most expensive and glamorous midfielders (Fernandez and Caicedo) both excel in the build-up and have so far been left wanting when moving further forward. It is likely under Maresca that one of them (at least) is tasked with more creation than was the case under Pochettino.

Fernandez is the natural pick here due to his range of passing, but Maresca may also think that his Swiss Army knife of options on the ball is best suited to progressing things from deep instead - think Luka Modric. Where does this leave last year's arguable second-best performer in Gallagher? He is now the closest natural contender for Dewsbury-Hall.

Under Maresca last year the 25-year-old was a bigger goal threat regularly than Gallagher proved at Chelsea, even in his end-of-season run that saw him become a real handful when crashing the box. Dewsbury-Hall's Premier League record to date is still inferior to Gallagher though, but his improvement and change in style from 2022/23 is marked and worth taking note of.

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Given that Caicedo and Fernandez will be expecting (and are expected) to play most often there isn't much room for experimenting. Dewsbury-Hall can be a natural No.8 that is also strong further forward, so can Gallagher. Casadei is behind in the pecking order but Chukwuemeka does seem suited to this role.

Santos can do most things but has not yet shown himself to be ready for regular Premier League action just yet. Lavia is a different profile entirely. Where do they fit into the hierarchy of options and what will their roles be? Neither question has an answer just yet.

So it becomes hard to escape Maresca picking Fernandez, Caicedo, and Dewsbury-Hall in his preferred trio. Gallagher certainly has plenty of reason to say that his claim has already been made for the spot himself though. The Englishman is perhaps the most likely here to be sold having been put up for sale once more this summer.

Chukwuemeka's promise and potential make for a strong pitch of his own, though the evidence to date is lacking. He could yet leave the club on loan with interest from AC Milan in him still strong.

It is no surprise that on the whole there haven't been serious enquires made for midfielders during the transfer window. Archie Gray is admired but looks to be headed to Tottenham, Amadou Onana has been on the radar for a while but no approach has been made. In general the focus has been elsewhere, on left-backs, goalkeepers, and strikers.

The picture is of a midfield that has plenty already in stock. How that looks is not yet clear. With Dewsbury-Hall arriving it is difficult to imagine that things will stray far from the new signing alongside Fernandez and Caicedo, though.