Chelsea plan to move again for Romelu Lukaku and Joao Cancelo as part of an aggressive close-season recruitment drive.
Though the London club is on course to regain the English Premier League title by a comfortable margin, Antonio Conte has requested a series of reinforcements he considers essential to the more demanding task of challenging for next season’s Champions League.
Conte requested that his new club buy Lukaku back from Everton in the summer, and the Belgium international was again targeted by Chelsea last month as they sought a €150million fee from China for leading goalscorer Diego Costa.
With Costa still disgruntled by Chelsea’s failure to improve his Stamford Bridge contract, Conte continues to see Lukaku – who is open to such a switch – as a ready-made replacement should a deal be agreed with the centre forward’s current employers.
Chelsea also attempted to buy Portugal international Cancelo from Valencia in the winter window only to be rebuffed by a club fighting to retain top-tier status in Spain and under severe pressure from its supporters. It is understood that Valencia will be more receptive to a close-season sale at a price of around €30m.
While Barcelona have also identified Cancelo as a potential solution to a problem position on the right-side of their defence, the Catalans do not expect to be able to go head-to-head with Chelsea on a transfer fee unless they make a major summer sale.
At 22 years of age, Cancelo satisfies Chelsea’s preference for buying younger players with appreciating resale values, while his ability to play both right back and right wing fits Conte’s favoured tactical system of fielding a five-man defence primed for rapid counterattacks.
Conte has also asked for high-quality reinforcements in central defence and midfield, and is confident that Chelsea will hold to a promise to provide them for him in the coming summer market. According to sources close to the Italian coach, Conte accepts that it is easier to bring players of the required calibre at the end of a league campaign and has been working to personally persuade preferred targets to join him in London.
While Chelsea retain an interest in France under-21 international Moussa Dembele, their manager regards the Celtic striker as an alternative to current back-up centre forward Michy Batshuayi rather than a Premier League starter.
In central defence, Benfica rejected Chelsea’s offer of an initial €35m for Victor Lindelof last summer and the Sweden international remains an option for a position in which it is particularly difficult to recruit as the Portuguese champions are preparing his sale. Though Chelsea also like Virgil van Dijk, the Southampton defender’s preference has been to join Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.