Sunday, 5 January 2020

The reason why Chelsea are ready to spend big on Dembele

Chelsea’s hunt for a striker to provide some much-needed relief to Tammy Abraham has taken them to the heart of France, where prolific Lyon hitman Moussa Dembele has caught the eye of Frank Lampard’s team.

The 23-year-old is seen as a natural heir to Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi, who have failed to win the trust of the former England midfielder, whose own nous in front of goal distinguished him as one of his generation’s outstanding players.

Now he is seeking a talent of similar scoring prowess, albeit in a more advanced position in a bid to cement the Blues’ place in the top four of the Premier League table.

With 10 goals in 18 Ligue 1 appearances this season, and 21 over the calendar year of 2019, Dembele ticks that box.

He is a thoroughbred No.9, lethally combining speed, strength and skill to establish himself as one of the most dangerous players in France, notching vital winning goals against the likes of PSG and Saint-Etienne over the course of the last year.

Only Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder (13) and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe (11) have outscored him in Le Championnat this season, despite playing for a distinctly mediocre Lyon side that finds itself 12th in the table.

He may not quite fit the mould of young local talent that Lampard has promoted since arriving in the summer from Derby, but the Frenchman has a history steeped in British football, strongly flavouring his game with the archetypal attributes of a stereotypical centre forward.

After choosing to leave PSG in 2012 after eight years in the youth academy of his hometown club - because of a lack of an obvious route into the first team - he took the bold step of moving to Fulham as a 16-year-old. At Craven Cottage he crafted his game before moving north to Celtic, where he enhanced his reputation further and notably caught the eye in a 3-3 Champions League draw with Manchester City.

Two strong years in Scotland led him to make a €22 million (£20m/$26m) switch back to his homeland and, after initial teething problems, the goals have flowed.

Dembele might have taken a step up with each of his moves, but he has met the challenges that each has provided impressively and has increased his goals-to-game ratio in the process.

And since his switch back to France, the injury problems that frustratingly punctuated his time at Parkhead have disappeared. Indeed, over two seasons in the Rhone Valley, he has never missed out on a matchday squad.

Although Lyon still want him to refine his qualities in terms of his all-round game and creating chances for others – he does not boast a Ligue 1 assist yet this season, although he does have two in the Champions League – his importance to the team is now paramount.

With key attackers Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide having picked up season-ending injuries in the same match against Rennes last month, it is little wonder that OL have railed against suggestions that they might sell the offensive ace over the course of the next month.

“Lyon are aware of news relayed by the media that suggests Moussa Dembele could interest other clubs during this transfer window,” the club said in an official statement that came in the wake of reports that they had rebuffed a €40 million (£34m/$45m) from the Stamford Bridge side.

“OL would like to reaffirm its wish, as in the summer of 2019, to keep Moussa Dembele.

“The club has full confidence in Moussa and will count on him particularly to build a successful team for seasons to come.”

Wishes don’t always come true, though, and Chelsea will be conscious that if they can find the resources a move may yet be possible.

With three-and-a-half years left to run on his deal and OL still competing in the Champions League, in which they will face Juventus over two legs in the spring, it would surely take a mammoth bid to prise the forward away, particularly as Manchester United and Arsenal remain closely linked with his services.

Dembele has yet to make his full France debut after a sparkling run in the Under-21s, but it is surely only a matter of time before the hitman turns out for the world champions.

Forcing his way into the national set up before Euro 2020 begins in June appears a long shot, but displacing Giroud at Stamford Bridge – the very man he will have to oust in Didier Deschamps’ plans – would certainly be a step towards that.

And with Lyon’s supporters in open war against the club and seeking to jump on any error from player or staff, moving on could be an attractive proposition at this moment.

While a move back to London would be personally symbolic as his career and reputation continues to grow, it would also be another step towards Lampard’s regeneration project with the Blues.

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