One of the greatest frustrations of the 2021/22 season for Thomas Tuchel was the lack of adequate wing-back cover when both Ben Chilwell and Reece James went down injured.
In a brief period when both were fit and starting between October and November, Chelsea flowed brilliantly, swatting opponents aside and overwhelming defenses in part due to the movement of the wing-backs.
Once both went down and Tuchel had to use Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta instead, the pace of passing and the quality of service went down. Resolving that issue this summer is crucial, especially if Tuchel aims to keep using wing-backs.
READ MORE:Todd Boehly Chelsea transfer promise creates Michael Edwards opportunity on one condition
There are internal options Tuchel could promote in Dujon Sterling, returning from a productive loan with Blackpool, or Ian Maatsen on loan with Coventry.
However, looking at the market, an interesting target has emerged. The Blues have scouted 29-year-old Jonathan Clauss from Lens. Initial contact has been made over signing him this summer, as reported by Goal, with Todd Boehly taking over as interim sporting director.
Chelsea have enjoyed recent success buying from Ligue 1, most proven by Edouard Mendy, who came in for £ 22m and instantly upgraded a vital squad position. Mendy also is a shining outlier in the club’s recent deals of being a player that costs less but has brought high value.
Apparently, Chelsea has watched his last 50 matches and identified him as a target shortly after Tuchel was appointed in 2021. The benefit to Clauss is his price, at around £ 10m, Chelsea would not be overspending on what would be deemed a rotational option, and you would be bringing in a player who has proven quite productive in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Clauss had the most goals involved for a defender in the top five leagues, scoring five goals and racking up an eye-catching eleven assists.
Off the back of a call-up to the French national team recently, Clauss played as a right-back with Jules Kounde, a player who could become a Chelsea teammate before the end of this transfer window should both players sign.
It is understandable to see why Tuchel likes what Clauss could bring to his current system. At Lens, he has played as a right-wing back in a 3-4-2-1 formation. He takes up a lot of positions you would see James take in the build-up of attacks. However, Clauss more regularly darts down the wing before whipping a cross close to the byline, compared to James, whose crosses sometimes come deeper from more inside areas outside the box.
It is also fair to say that in terms of skillset and flexibility, James easily eclipses Clauss here, but the task of finding another Reece is virtually impossible and would cost you a stupendous fee to do so.
A brief overview of Clauss compared to Tuchel’s main wing-backs last season, discounting the rare times we saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Christian Pulisic, or Callum Hudson-Odoi fielded there, shows his frequent crossing rate.
Attempting 5.48 crosses per 90 last season, with the next closest being James with 3.48. In terms of aerial duels per 90, he is below all of James, Chilwell, Alonso and Azpilicueta at 0.98. If you compare that to Sterling, the Cobham graduate has 2.9 aerial duels with 47 per cent won.
Further comparing him to James, the player he would be competing with, Clauss has a higher success rate of defensive actions per 90 of 8.68 to 7.65. Though James betters him easily in defensive duels won at 71 per cent compared to the Frenchman’s 57 per cent.
At £ 10m and the potential for him to act as a low-risk, high-value backup to James, there is some logic to this deal, only curtailed by his age of 29 and the risk of blocking Sterling’s path to first-team football . With a shorter-term contract, the France international could go some way to solving the profile issue Tuchel faced last year.