Does De Ligt pursuit suggest Chelsea will move to a back four?

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith Updated: 2 Jul 2022 19:25 BST 5 min read
Matthijs de Ligt, Juventus, 2021-22

Matthijs de Ligt is expected to join Chelsea this summer as the Blues look to replace the outgoing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen.

FootballTransfers understand that De Ligt wants to link up with Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge, while Italian transfer guru Alfredo Pedulla has reported that Chelsea are set to table their first official offer to Juventus. It's believed the Blues will bid €70 million plus add-ons in an attempt to land the Dutch international.

De Ligt, 22, joined Juventus back in 2019 after a stellar breakthrough at Ajax, but has suffered the troubles of moving for big money at a young age, with expectations sky-high.

However, Tuchel has seen enough during the defender's time at Juventus to pursue a deal this summer as he looks to reinvent his defensive line. Thiago Silva, Trevoh Chalobah, Malang Sarr and Cesar Azpilicueta are now the club's only four senior centre-backs ahead of next season, which is why they've dipped into the transfer market in search of upgrades.

Jules Kounde, Kalidou Koulibaly, Josko Gvardiol, Nathan Ake and Benoit Badiashile have all been linked this summer, but it appears as though De Ligt has emerged as the club's favourite.

It's expected that De Ligt's transfer to Chelsea will go through before the end of the window, although the Blues were in a similar situation with the aforementioned Kounde last year and a deal fell through.

But, if De Ligt does arrive at Chelsea, it will be intriguing to see how Tuchel decides to use him. It's believed that the Dutchman has singled out the German head coach as a key reason why he's open to joining Chelsea, and he could play an important role in De Ligt's development.

At 22 years old, De Ligt is nearly past the point of no return. It's often the case that any flaws in a player's game are either ironed out by their mid-20s, or they stick with them throughout their career. Whether that be the way they receive the ball or the style of dribbling technique they adopt, most things can be corrected at a young age.

Matthijs de Ligt joined Juventus from Ajax in 2019

Matthijs de Ligt joined Juventus from Ajax in 2019

Therefore, De Ligt is approaching the stage where he won't improve his technical level too much. His experience and positioning may develop, but his skillset may not. As a result of that, Tuchel has a huge job on his hands.

De Ligt is quite a clunky, old-school defender who can be exposed when defending large spaces and when he's forced to turn sharply. His size means he finds it hard to move and turn freely and this heavy-footed nature doesn't suit a wide centre-back role.

Of course, coaching can come into play and fix that, as seen by Milan Skriniar's development under Antonio Conte, but it isn't easy.

Right now, De Ligt's skillset doesn't pertain to playing as a wide centre-back in a back three - the formation Chelsea currently use. His lack of mobility means he wouldn't be an effective Rudiger replacement at all. Unlike the German, De Ligt doesn't have a fluid, agile style of defending; instead he's far better suited to playing as an old-school defender tasked with simply stopping the ball crossing his goal-line.

If Tuchel wishes to persist with the back three, then De Ligt would likely be a bad fit. The only role he could really play would be in the middle, but that's Thiago Silva's spot, and the Brazilian was arguably Chelsea's most consistent player last term.

Thiago Silva started 28 Premier League games last season

Thiago Silva started 28 Premier League games last season

Furthermore, Chelsea's pursuit of a multitude of forward options, including Raheem Sterling, Raphinha, Ousmane Dembele and Cristiano Ronaldo, suggests Tuchel could be open to the idea of switching to a back four.

With so many attackers likely to be at his disposal next year, replacing a defender with another forward makes sense on paper, and it would also explain the desire to sign De Ligt.

Why a back four makes sense

In a regular back four, without the need to defend in wide zones as regularly, De Ligt could form a rock-solid partnership with Thiago Silva and given the lack of centre-back options available to Tuchel, a back four seems like the perfect solution.

De Ligt's flaws would still exist in a back four, but they'd be lessened simply by reducing the frequency of times he's required to change direction. If De Ligt is tasked with man-marking a centre-forward, he's the perfect mould for a Premier League centre-back, but if he's asked to fulfil a role similar to the one Rudiger performed under Tuchel, then he will struggle.

Matthijs de Ligt has captained the Dutch national team before

Matthijs de Ligt has captained the Dutch national team before

For example, whenever Chelsea faced Liverpool, Rudiger would be touch-tight with Mohamed Salah, even following the Egyptian to the touchline. De Ligt simply wouldn't suit that role, his lack of agility would be exposed and his talents would go to waste.

But, if Tuchel wants to move to a back four, and pictures a defensive line that consists of Reece James, Thiago Silva, De Ligt and Ben Chilwell, then Chelsea could be a serious threat next season.

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