When it was confirmed in mid-July that Wesley Fofana would face a significant period on the sidelines owing to an ACL injury, Chelsea started to be linked with a host of centre-backs to replace the Frenchman. Harry Maguire was a reported target, so too was Blues academy product Marc Guehi.
However, on Sunday evening, reports started to circulate that Chelsea had an agreement in principle with Monaco for towering France international Axel Disasi. The 25-year-old has been on Premier League radars in recent months, with Manchester United and Newcastle both credited with an interest in the Gonesse-born centre-back. Chelsea have since taken the plunge on the defender, bringing him in for €45m.
That in itself serves to highlight the extent of Fofana’s injury, but even so; Chelsea couldn’t afford to pass up the chance to secure Disasi’s services. Even with his compatriot available, Mauricio Pochettino’s top quality options at the heart of the defence are thin on the ground.
Levi Colwill, who is set to pen a new deal at Stamford Bridge, should go on to become a mainstay in the Blues backline, but a partner for the 20-year-old was key. Trevoh Chalobah isn’t quite of the standard expected for a club seeking to return to the Champions League, while the west London outfit can’t rely on 38-year-old Thiago Silva to manage the backline for another season, particularly in a four-man defence. Benoit Badiashile will return sooner rather than later, but he’ll need some time to get up to speed under Pochettino having missed much of pre-season due to a hamstring issue.
For the right-sided centre-back role, Disasi can be viewed as a superb acquisition. Standing at 6ft 3in, the France international maximises his stature having won the second most aerial duels (97) of defenders in Ligue 1 last season. And he was consistent in beating opponents in headed battles, too. Of the 143 players to contest 50 or more aerial duels, Disasi’s aerial success rate of 70.3% ranked ninth in the division.
Considering Chelsea returned an aerial success rate of just 52.1% last season, Disasi’s dominance in the air will certainly boost that return. There’s also a willingness to get the ball forward quickly from deep. Not only did Chelsea struggle for goals last season, hitting the back of the net 38 times in the Premier League, but they were compounded by an inability to put an opponent to the sword at speed.
Disasi has played 99 league games for Monaco across three seasons (Getty Images)
No team scored fewer counter-attacking goals than Chelsea (1) in England’s top tier last term, and even that came in a 4-1 defeat at Manchester United back in May. Disasi, though, is one willing to pick a pass from range, and does so to a decent standard to help quickly turn defence into attack. Indeed, 141 accurate long balls ranked 14th of outfield players in France’s top tier last term, and this in itself played a part in Monaco scoring seven counter-attacking goals; only champions PSG (10) netted more.
Dominant in the air and sound with the ball at his feet, Disasi seems the perfect fit for a Chelsea side that will seek to control matches where possible. Another key reason behind the drive to sign Disasi, though, will have been his versatility. Primarily a centre-back, he’ll line up at the heart of the defence with everyone fit in Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 setup, but players who can operate in multiple positions are a precious commodity in the modern game.
As such, Disasi’s ability to play at right-back as well as centre-back will have been another reason behind Chelsea’s interest. The departure of Cesar Azpilicueta over the summer means the Blues needed another defender to operate in a couple of roles, and a defensive-minded right-back is a handy squad option. Pochettino has also previously used a three-man backline during his time at Tottenham, a system that does suit the full-backs at his disposal, so the ability to switch between two formations is ideal.
The 25-year-old featured for France in the Qatar World Cup (Getty Images)
Disasi’s flexibility will help Pochettino’s decision making when it comes to tinkering with his side, particularly in-play, and it cannot be overstated how important this positional interchangeability is for Chelsea. Given how often managers tinker with their setup across the 90 minutes, the potential ability to swap between a four-man and a three-man defence will aid the Blues, not just on a week-by-week basis, but across the season.
There are concerns over the defensive side to his game, particularly when up against direct attackers in one-on-one situations, yet from an offensive perspective; Disasi will benefit Chelsea. Given the right protection in front of him, Disasi should be given the crucial time on the ball to help set the Blues on the front foot. Alongside ball-playing star-in-the-making Colwill, Chelsea will have a solid centre-back foundation to help in their quest to return to the Champions League.