Chelsea came good in transfer window - this squad can challenge on four fronts
The sense of panic in some quarters seemed intense, but Chelsea came good in this transfer window, says Dan Levene.
There was no £70million wing back, and no £90m striker this summer for Chelsea.
But there was a club record signing, and a sense of renewal running throughout the squad – which should stand Antonio Conte's side in good stead for the period from now until January.
This was never going to be a window involving a Mancunian or Parisian war chest. It was always going to be a matter of living within the club's means – a brief it stuck to, while improving the first-team squad.
And, though growing in brand presence, it will surely never be able to call upon the merchandising resources of Manchester United.
And that is how the cloth was cut.
French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko (L) takes on Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld (R) during the Premier League match.Eurosport
The priorities were to take a title-winning, though ageing, side and improve (to varying degrees) depth, ability and log-term viability.
And, in all departments, those objectives were achieved.
The most significant arrival was Tiemoue Bakayoko: defensive midfielder, with box-to-box potential, and member of the current UEFA Champions League team of the season.
At 23, he is one of the continent's most sought-after talents: a Michael Essien, around whom the Blues' midfield can be shaped for a good six or seven seasons to come.
As a replacement for Nemanja Matic – six years older, and only very rarely able to show the abilities of the Frenchman – it is a great piece of business, and one done for zero financial outlay.
The other big change was to bring in Alvaro Morata for Diego Costa – who, regardless of his present position in Chelsea's squad, will surely never play for the club again (though an exception may be made for the trip to Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy next month).
Diego Costa y Antonio ConteGetty Images
At roughly 70 per cent fit, the speed is not yet there for the new man. But the movement is. As is the ability to score goals even when not firing on all cylinders: another improvement, and another age-reducing move (he's four years Costa's junior).
Antonio Rudiger was brought in for both experience and versatility: and at the age of 24, he has a good amount of both.
As a switch for on-loan Kurt Zouma (slightly younger than him, but far more raw), it is another piece of business which improves the all-round ability of the squad – covering a number of positions, and giving Zouma time to develop.
Zouma may yet become a defender of true greatness, but he is a way off it yet. And Rudiger is far more suited to the shape and style of team than the Frenchman.
John Terry's departure has been more than offset, in playing terms at least, by the return of Andreas Christensen from his long-term loan.
There are things no player in this squad (or perhaps any) can replace in Terry's absence, but as a first-team option Christensen increases the pool of available playing talent, while taking 15 years off the cumulative squad age.
Another promotion from within is Charly Musonda: replacing the on-loan Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and again offering something more akin to what Conte can use in a player.
Crystal Palace's Ruben Loftus-Cheek in action with Huddersfield Town’s Chris LoweReuters
And as back-up in goal, Willy Caballero is an option at least as good as the outgoing Asmir Begovic: and, crucially, at a stage in his career where he is more content with the concept of being understudy.
The deadline day dealing competed the picture: Davide Zappacosta a better fit at wingback than the outgoing Nathan Ake; and Danny Drinkwater giving ready-made depth to midfield, in a way that Nathaniel Chalobah could not.
Some get frustrated about the talk of a 'net spend', insisting it is a thing for spreadsheet obsessives and bean counters. As an aim, perhaps so.
But as a reality within which a club is operating, where it is simply pie in the sky to pursue players with nine-figure price tags, this becomes not a matter of saving cash, but of getting the best possible value for what is available.
Chelsea came pretty close to doing that.
They emerge from the window with a squad roughly the same size as those which won the Premier League, while competing in Europe, in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2015.
And they have reduced the average age of their first XI considerably.
The footballing arms race is a fake and needless one: as the last two Premier League champions have shown.
This is a squad which can compete on four fronts, and one which should finish in the top four at least, reach the Champions League quarter finals, and challenge for domestic silverware.