FIVE players Chelsea must build around regardless of Pochettino fate as manager

A run of four successive victories to close out the 2023-24 season saw Chelsea climb to sixth in the Premier League table and secure at least a spot in next term’s UEFA Europa Conference League, with a Europa League berth still possible depending on the outcome of the FA Cup final between Manchester City and Manchester United.

Yet overall, in was a tumultuous season for the big-spending Blues, who will have been intent upon getting back into the Champions League after an outlay of over £400 million in the transfer market last summer.

As exclusively revealed by TEAMtalk, the Stamford Bridge side are yet to decide on whether or not to sack manager Mauricio Pochettino after the topsy-turvy campaign, with some crucial talks taking place this week.

Already, speculation has turned to which players Chelsea will attempt to sign this summer. But despite their underperformance, their squad already boasts a wealth of talent.

Here are the five current Chelsea player the Blues need to build around, irrespective of who is in charge at Stamford Bridge next season.

Cole Palmer

Obviously.

Eyebrows were raised when Chelsea paid over £40 million to sign Cole Palmer from Manchester City on the final day of the transfer window last summer, but no one is questioning the move now.

The 22-year-old England star has enjoyed a dream first campaign as a Chelsea player, thriving even when the team were struggling for much of the season. His career-best return of 22 Premier League goals was second only to former team-mate Erling Haaland in the running for the Golden Boot, while Palmer also produced 11 assists, giving him more goal contributions than any other player in the English top flight.

Palmer has been outstanding, scoring a wide range of goals – from the spectacular to the speculative to several spot kicks – while also demonstrating the temperament to score in the biggest games, as evidenced by goals against Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and a match-winning hat-trick against Manchester United.

Arguably the signing of the 2023-24 season, Palmer will be the bedrock of any success Chelsea achieve in the near future.

Moises Caicedo

His British-record £115 million arrival from Brighton last summer sparked headlines and his initial form flattered to deceive, but Moises Caicedo’s vastly improved performances as Chelsea began to climb the table in recent weeks prove he can be the centrepiece of the Stamford Bridge midfield.

The Blues fended off rival interest from Liverpool to sign the Ecuadorian and for much of the season it looked as though the Reds had swerved a bullet in failing to land the 22-year-old at such great expense.

Caicedo has flipped the narrative now, though, earning three Player of the Match awards in a row and scoring a stunning Goal of the Season contender to fire Chelsea past Bournemouth on the last day of the campaign and help secure European qualification.

The former Brighton man’s fine form of late will be a huge relief to the Chelsea higher-ups after what was shaping up to be an embarrassing overpay. Caicedo has now shown the club’s faith was well placed.

Malo Gusto

Of all the big-money signing the Blues have made over the past 18 months, few were as unheralded as Malo Gusto.

The French full-back was initially signed from Lyon for around £30 million in January 2023 and loaned back to the Ligue 1 club for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. His eventual arrival at Stamford Bridge proved timely, with captain Reece James lost early in the campaign to a hamstring injury that would keep him out for most of the season.

And Gusto ensured that the skipper was not missed. Whether deployed at right-back or right wing-back, the 21-year-old has impressed with his dogged one-v-one defensive ability and a quality in attack that has yielded six Premier League assists from 19 starts.

Gusto’s performances present a conundrum for whoever is manning the Stamford Bridge dugout next term – the manager will have to figure out the best way to reincorporate a fully fit James without unsettling the Frenchman.

Christopher Nkunku

Signed from RB Leipzig last summer for £52 million, Christopher Nkunku was, for much of the season, Chelsea’s forgotten man.

A knee injury that required surgery prevented the French forward from making his Blues debut until late December. And hamstring and hip injuries sidelined him for much of the second half of the 2023-24 term, too, robbing the gifted and versatile attacker from being able to build any kind of momentum at his new club.

Nkunku finished the season with only two Premier League starts to his name. But with three goals from just 427 minutes of top-flight action, the 22-year-old showed flashes of the vast talent that had inspired Chelsea to spend big and win the race for his signature almost a year ago.

The former PSG youngster developed into one of the most well-rounded forwards in the Bundesliga during four years with RB Leipzig, able to play in any attacking-midfield position or as a striker and scoring 36 league goals in his final two seasons with the Red Bull-owned club.

Having Nkunku fit and firing again for the start of next season will be like a new signing for Chelsea.

Enzo Fernandez

The fact that Enzo Fernandez’s absence through injury over the last month of the season coincided with Caicedo’s best form in a Chelsea shirt is a worrying sign for the Blues.

Their two £100 million-plus midfielders ought to be the foundations of the team’s future, but they are yet to gel as a duo.

Fernandez was signed a year and a half ago for a then-British-record £106 million from Benfica off the back of a glorious 2022 World Cup campaign with Argentina.

And the 23-year-old has routinely demonstrated his quality at Stamford Bridge, through his ability to control games from a deep midfield position, his eye for a defence-splitting pass or his thunderous shooting technique.

While he still needs to find a level of consistency for, with his form having tailed off in the weeks leading up to his season-ending injury in April, his talent and price tag should ensure that he is a central figure in the club’s continuing rebuild. Finding a system in which he and Caicedo can co-exist and thrive is key.

READ MORE: The key contract details of every Chelsea first-team player: Expiry dates, weekly wages, agents…

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