Chelsea suffered the embarrassment of a 10th-placed Premier League finish in 2015-16 – their lowest in 20 years by a whopping four places – but they are perceived to have taken out their insurance policy against such a humiliation being repeated in new recruit N’Golo Kante.
The midfielder adjudged by most to have been the standout purchase of last summer and one of the main reasons for Leicester’s extraordinary ascent from 14th place in 2014-15 to Premier League glory last term has moved to Stamford Bridge for a fee of around £30m.
The Blues are doing everything possible to ensure that their Champions League absence is a one-season-only deal after 13 successive participations, hiring a coach who won three league titles with Juventus in Antonio Conte, signing one of the most sought-after young strikers in Europe in Michy Batshuayi and now investing in the champions’ engine.
A podium finish is expected in Conte’s debut campaign, with Chelsea 11/2 third favourites to reclaim what they lost to the Foxes at the first try, though they remain a reasonable distance behind the two frontrunners, with Manchester City top of the betting at 12/5 and Manchester United next on 7/2.
The TV money currently on offer in England has transformed the transfer market, creating an environment in which Crystal Palace can spend eight-figure sums on multiple players and Bournemouth can afford to pay £15m for Liverpool reserves.
However, this is arguably the first truly statement-sending signing by one of the Big Six clubs in this window. Man City (Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito), Man Utd (Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan) and Arsenal (Granit Xhaka) have all bought quality footballers, but not from one of their rivals at the peak of their powers.
The fact that Chelsea have managed to complete this deal without being able to provide Champions League football makes it even more impressive, yet Kante’s logic is abandoning a shot at the competition to move to west London isn’t as strange as some critics will protest.
At 25, the Frenchman can afford to take a long-term outlook, and he has clearly concluded that his chances of winning Europe’s top club prize in the next five years are better with the Blues than at at Leicester, who are 66/1 outsiders in what many forecast will be an isolated continental venture.
Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal joined Conte at Champions League-less Juventus in 2011 having spent the prior season with teams who qualified for it. Neither were given cause to regret their decision.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.