The next six months are not going to be easy for RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano; his name will be among the headlines of sports pages across Europe on an almost daily basis.
It comes with the territory of being one of the most highly-regarded young centre-backs in the game. The 22-year-old already possesses every attribute required to thrive at the top level and will only improve in the years to come.
Upamecano’s talent alone is enough to attract the biggest clubs around. But it’s the release clause in his contract that becomes active at the end of the season that will see speculation over his future ramped up by the day.
Come the summer, the France international will be available for €42 million, which roughly converts to around £37.5 million. It is a knockdown fee for the centre-back and almost half of what Leipzig have previously demanded.
The Blues currently have five senior central defenders at Stamford Bridge: Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Fikayo Tomori, although the latter is set to leave on loan this month.
They also have Marc Guehi parked at Swansea City and summer signing Malang Sarr at Porto. The versatile Ethan Ampadu, currently at Sheffield United, is also a defensive option for the Blues.
It begs the question: Why would Chelsea want Upamecano when they are stocked at centre-back? Let us explain.
Of the five options currently available to Lampard, four have uncertain futures at Stamford Bridge.
Silva, at 36 years old, is not a long-term option for Chelsea. He has been almost flawless since joining on a free transfer in the summer but the Blues will, at best, get one more season from the Brazilian who wants to represent his country at the 2022 World Cup.
Meanwhile, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, 27 and 24 years old respectively, are very much at crossroads in their Chelsea careers. Neither have played regularly this term with Lampard preferring Silva and Zouma, but both are out of contract in 2022.
That will force the Blues hand this summer. They either have to convince the pair to sign new deals, unlikely given their lack of regular game time, or sell up rather than risk losing the pair for nothing at the end of the 2021/22 campaign.
And then there is Tomori. Rewind a little more than a year ago and the 23-year-old looked to have sewn up a spot in the Chelsea first team. He was a regular under Lampard in the Premier League and, although not faultless, had impressed.
But Tomori’s status at Chelsea quickly changed. He dropped out of the side and then the match-day squad. Since the start of 2020, he has made just seven appearances for the Blues in all competitions.
Lampard insists the academy graduate has a long-term future at Stamford Bridge but he is expected to leave on loan this month in search of regular game time. How he fares away from the club will likely have a big bearing on his position at Chelsea.
The reality is that of Lampard’s senior central defensive options, only Kurt Zouma can be locked in for the seasons to come. And while Guehi, Sarr and Ampadu undoubtedly have huge potential, they are all unproven at the very top level.
The above is why Chelsea need another senior centre-back to arrive in the summer; Upamecano fits the bill.
He has made more than 130 appearances for RB Leipzig, has played in the latter rounds of the Champions League and has represented France, the world champions no less.
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An excellent passer, Upamecano also possesses the recovery pace required to thrive in a high line. The only big concern for Premier League sides would be his capability in the air. He has won only 70.7% of his aerial duels per FBRef, fewer than both Silva and Zouma.
Chelsea also have a good relationship with Leipzig following the deal that took Timo Werner to Stamford Bridge, although the release clause in Upamecano’s deal means the Bundesliga side have very little sway in negotiations.
The defender will ultimately have his pick of clubs come the summer and Chelsea must be in the race come that point. Fortunately, with the headlines Upamecano’s future generates, we will know one way or the other.