Chelsea's Peter Crouch pursuit shows Antonio Conte has failed Michy Batshuayi and Tammy Abraham

Chris Bailey 19/01/2018
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Has Antonio Conte got it wrong in the transfer market?

A few years ago, before ‘going viral’ had become a common turn of phrase on social media, an amusing advertisement from a real footballing go-getter did the rounds in England.

‘STRIKER AVAILABLE’, the ad read, which had presumably been tacked onto the side of a bus stop. ‘MY NAMES GARY GOALS AND I AM THE TOP CLASS STRIKER + I WILL PLAY FOR YOUR TEAM!!!’

What Gary lacked in grammar he made up for in enthusiasm and general braggadocio. Among his claims: trials at Doncaster United (sic) and playing against Wayne Rooney’s cousin, a set-piece expert including ‘the penos’, and that he had scored in every game he has played in.

Mr Goals’ real identity was never revealed (although this was around the same time that Harry Kane came to prominence. Coincidence?). However, providing he’s over 180cm tall, it’s only a matter of time before Chelsea enquire about his availability.

Because – being sincere here – who is left for Chelsea to chase should their pursuit of a soon-to-be 37 Peter Crouch fall through? If the checklist starts and ends with English, tall and a distinctly average Liverpool career, they could do worse than try and coax Rickie Lambert out of retirement.

It speaks for how muddled the transfer policy is at Stamford Bridge that they are left flailing for any ‘have boots, will travel’ option despite the millions they invest in their squad every summer.

The fissures between Antonio Conte and the board, namely chief negotiator Marina Granovskaia, have been visible for the best part of a year now but the Italian must be on the verge of cracking up completely every time he thinks of Crouchy in a blue shirt.

Conte cannot be absolved of blame. Yes, he made it clear that he wanted experience in Fernando Llorente over the summer, but he has hastily come to the conclusion that €40m man Michy Batshuayi is not up to scratch.

“He has to show me that he’s better than (Alvaro) Morata, or than (Eden) Hazard. It’s very simple,” Conte said recently when asked about the Belgian’s lack of game time. It’s an odd comment given that Morata is toughing out an ice-cold streak in front of goal and Chelsea are still in four competitions. Conte has simply decided he is no fan of a coachable 24-year-old and would rather send him off to Sevilla and get an [insert tall, old striker here] in replacement.

What Chelsea do administer to perfection is the manipulation of the loan system, and Batshuayi’s move to La Liga would be No.35.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Michy Batshuayi of Chelsea shoots wide during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay between Chelsea and Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on January 17, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Does Michy Batshuayi have a future at Chelsea?

Most of these players will not once wear a Chelsea shirt proper. Instead they are farmed out, fattened up with appearances and sold at a premium when the time is right.

It plumps up the profit margins but is farcical that the club has so many young, extremely talented players on their books – many of whom would be delighted with just a spot on Chelsea’s bench – yet still resort to the market to add depth to their first-team.

What must Tammy Abraham be thinking right now, knowing that Crouch – a player nearly 17 years his senior, a player who was merely useful at his peak – could be unveiled at Chelsea while he is struggling for game time at Swansea? Abraham (who, by the way, is 190cm tall) and Stoke sub Crouch have both been starved of chances in poor sides, but only one of them could possibly be the future at Stamford Bridge.

That Chelsea did not have the foresight to install a break clause in Abraham’s loan deal, knowing full well they have been a striker short since the summer, is yet another failure in planning.

Perhaps he’s just another young player Conte does not look like the of. But whether Crouch or Gary Goals responds to his SOS call this month, Conte could help out his side by doing what he’s paid to do – coach.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30: Tammy Abraham of Swansea City is challenged by Christian Kabasele of Watford during the Premier League match between Watford and Swansea City at Vicarage Road on December 30, 2017 in Watford, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Tammy Abraham has spent the season on loan at Swansea.

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Fernandinho signs new two-year contract extension at Manchester City

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Fernandinho has been a lynchpin in the City midfield for several years.

Fernandinho has signed a two-year contract extension to commit himself to Manchester City until the summer of 2020.

The 32-year-old Brazilian was in the last six months of his previous deal but the club had long been in talks with a man who has become a key part of Pep Guardiola’s midfield.

“This is a club with a fantastic future and I want to be a part of it for as long as possible,” Fernandinho said on the club’s official website.

“With Pep in charge, I feel sure we can win significant silverware and, importantly, we will try to do it playing attractive, attacking football.

“It’s a pleasure to be a part of this club and I look forward to seeing what the next few years bring.”

Since arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, Fernandinho has made 212 appearances for City, 30 of them this season, and scored a total of 19 goals.

In November, Guardiola described him as “one of the best three holding midfielders in the world,” and director of football Txiki Begiristain was happy to finalise a new deal.

“We’re delighted Ferna has signed his new contract. He is a senior member of the squad and his professionalism and work ethic are second to none,” he said.

“His form has been fantastic this season and we’re happy he’s extended his deal for a further two years.”

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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah trails Marko Arnautovic in Fantasy Premier League form guide

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Lanzini and Arnautovic have been making FPL owners happy in recent weeks.

West Ham’s resurgence under David Moyes is now reflected in the Fantasy Premier League form tables, with Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini coming on strong.

The pair have been pushed further forward in Moyes’ new 3-5-1-1 system, with Lanzini playing off Arnautovic in attack, meaning more opportunities to contribute at the sharp end.

And with both players classed as midfielders in FPL they are getting extra value for their goals, five points instead of four. That has been worth an extra six points to Arnautovic since Moyes took charge, while Lanzini’s 14 points against Huddersfield last time out would have been 12 were he classed as a forward. They also score a point apiece for any clean sheets.

FORM HORSES

Arnautovic tops Press Association Sport’s Form Index with a score of 82.2 out of 100, with Lanzini – who also has six assists under Moyes – entering the top 10 on 68.3.

Liverpool‘s free-scoring Mohamed Salah is Arnautovic’s nearest challenger as last week’s pace-setter Marcos Alonso drops to third, while Harry Kane‘s fourth place is no mean achievement – a player’s cost is a factor in the calculation and the Tottenham striker tops the pile at £13m.

By contrast, a £4.2m rating sees Trent Alexander-Arnold remain as one of three Liverpool representatives. Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City are down to one, Raheem Sterling in seventh.

BRUCIE BONUS

Goals and assists are not the only way to get ahead in FPL, with the game’s bonus points system also offering valuable extras for the three highest-rated players in each match.

The system is calculated using a range of in-game actions, including the regular point-scoring contributions but also other factors such as tackles, clearances, dribbles and key passes. Key errors, missed chances and fouls will count against players.

For defenders in particular, this can be a path to extra points. Tracking players’ underlying scores can give an indication of who, across the field, is performing well and looks good to break out – Kevin De Bruyne leads the league in BPS score on 593, which eventually translated into goals and assists galore in Manchester City’s winning run. Of the midfielder’s 139 points, 19 have come through the bonus system.

Kevin de Bruyne leads the FPL rankings for bonus score.

Kevin de Bruyne leads the FPL rankings for bonus score.

Chelsea‘s Cesar Azpilicueta is the leading defender in BPS score, second behind De Bruyne overall, with Alonso third among defenders behind Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi.

Splitting the players by price bracket, though, the chart demonstrates some useful pick-ups – Harry Maguire, the fifth-ranked defender by BPS and a Leicester ever-present, is available for £5.4m while £4.6m Huddersfield centre-back Christopher Schindler is 10th.

Those seeking replacements for, say, Eric Bailly (£6m) or James Milner (£6.1m) could make good use of the rankings to free up money for a run at Kane or Salah – or double down with De Bruyne.

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