Do Chelsea need a new Drogba or Costa? Higuain’s suitability to Sarriball questioned by Nevin

Doubts have been cast over Gonzalo Higuain’s suitability to Sarriball at Chelsea by Pat Nevin, with questions asked of whether the Blues need another Didier Drogba or Diego Costa focal point.

Goal revealed last week that an Argentine striker currently on loan at AC Milan from Juventus had emerged as a top target for those at Stamford Bridge.

An agreement is in place, but is yet to be completed as Chelsea also prepare to sanction a switch to Atletico Madrid for Alvaro Morata.

Higuain is considered to be the proven performer Maurizio Sarri needs to reignite his forward line, but Nevin is not convinced that another physical presence up top should have been prioritised.

The former Blues star told the club’s official website: “The question has been asked, do we need another big striker who is physical?

“After all, Chelsea fans have loved the likes of Didier Drogba and Diego Costa who were hugely successful, but would that really suit Sarri-ball?

“Even when you find the man who can play the way you want him to play, who is likely to score the goals, who has the pedigree, who is fully fit and available and isn’t ridiculously priced, then you still have to hope that he has the right temperament.

“This isn’t always easy to know, you can talk to people he has worked with, but how will he manage arriving within the group at his new club right in the middle of the season?

“Strikers often want to come in and be seen as the top dog right away. Good luck with that considering the characters around our training ground.

“If you have staff that have worked with him before, however, then that certainly helps.”

Christian Pulisic Dortmund Chelsea

Nevin added: “The other thing that isn’t in the club’s favour in trying to tie up a quick deal is that a centre-forward is usually the hardest player to source, well a centre-forward who guarantees goals, anyway.

“Look at the world-renowned strikers that have come to the club over the years. A few have come nowhere near the expected rate of goals, however many tens of millions of pounds were handed over.”

While Higuain will have much to prove if he does link up with Chelsea, Nevin is delighted to have seen another piece of January business wrapped up.

The Blues have won the race for the much sought-after signature of United States international Christian Pulisic, with the 20-year-old playmaker set to complete a £58 million (€64m/$73m) move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.

“It is no surprise the Christian Pulisic deal was done quickly,” said Nevin.

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“The club was clearly willing to shell out at the very top end of his expected value and he was then loaned back immediately to Borussia Dortmund, as they held all the cards in the negotiations.

“So you can get the deals done early in January, but there is a price to pay to ensure you aren’t dragged into a bidding war.

“Other big clubs were definitely hovering around the American and Chelsea knew it.”


Donnarumma wishes Higuain luck ahead of expected Chelsea switch

Gianluigi Donnarumma has wished team-mate Gonzalo Higuain well ahead of the AC Milan striker’s expected move to Chelsea.

Higuain was not part of Milan’s squad for Monday’s 2-0 win at Genoa, with head coach Gennaro Gattuso suggesting that the Juventus loanee’s focus was elsewhere.

A deal to take the Argentina international to Stamford Bridge has not yet been finalised, but it appears he may have already played his final game for Milan.

Donnarumma, who produced a number of fine saves in Milan’s victory at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, is unsure why Higuain wants to move on just six months into his loan deal.

“If Higuain made this choice, there must be reasons, but he is a friend and I wish him all the best,” Donnarumma told Sky Sport Italia.

Fabio Borini and Suso were restored to Milan’s starting line-up from their 1-0 loss to Juventus in last week’s Supercoppa Italiana, both getting on the scoresheet in a well-earned win for Gattuso’s men.

Borini opened the scoring with a close-range finish before Suso converted off the inside of the post late on, as Milan moved up to fourth having previously failed to score in back-to-back away matches in the league.

Donnarumma conceded that Milan started slowly against Genoa, but the 19-year-old goalkeeper was pleased that his side resumed their Serie A campaign with all three points.

“The Supercoppa defeat hurt, but our objective is fourth place and we are up there. Now let’s focus on the next match, this one’s in the bag,” he added.

“It wasn’t a great start, but we suffered all together and that is the most important thing. We fought hard and our quality emerged eventually to win a very difficult match.

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“There’s a long time to go, but we’ll do everything we can to achieve our objectives.”

Milan’s top-four mission will likely continue without Higuain in their ranks, but assistant manager Luigi Riccio is hopeful that others – such as Patrick Cutrone – can step up in his place.

“I want to underline the great performances put in by Patrick Cutrone in the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa and today,” Riccio said. “He was exceptional in attacking the space, stretching the Genoa defence and working for the team.”


Chelsea agree loan-to-buy £48.5m Morata deal with Atletico Madrid

Chelsea have reached an agreement with Atletico Madrid to allow Alvaro Morata to leave on loan, with the Liga club having a £48.5 million ($62m) option to sign the striker on a permanent basis, Goal understands.

Morata had already reached an agreement with Atletico Madrid over his personal terms last week and he is willing to accept a lower contract than his current £120,000 per week Chelsea deal upon the activation of an option to buy.

Offloading the 26-year-old striker is also a major step in Chelsea’s bid to take over AC Milan’s loan deal for Gonzalo Higuain, with the Blues having already reached an agreement with the Argentine forward’s parent club Juventus.

Like Morata, Higuain has been left out of his team’s latest match, with Milan due to play Genoa on Monday, after Chelsea agreed a six-month loan deal with an option to extend it or sign the striker outright for £32.5 million ($42m).

They will also pay Juventus on the basis of appearances, goals and season’s achievements over the six-month period that they are loaning Higuain for.

Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek is set to replace Higuain at the San Siro and a £35m ($45m) deal is expected to be reached in the next 48 hours, according to the selling club’s sporting director Giorgio Perinetti.

“After today’s match against Milan, we will meet them and reach an agreement in the next 48 hours, whether he leaves or not,” said Perinetti. “We spoke with Gazidis and Leonardo for two hours and we still need to evaluate the counterparts in the deal.

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“This is why the deal has not been finalised yet as we need to analyse whether it will be functional for our transfer market session.”

The movement of strikers across Europe is part of a bigger picture as major clubs look to ensure they are not left without a reliable forward option for the rest of the season.

This is what has led to Michy Batshuayi’s proposed loan move being held up, as Chelsea look to explore opportunities to cash in, with a £40m ($51m) valuation being placed on the Belgium international, who endured a disappointing first half of the season on loan at Valencia.


AC Milan a big club? Higuain and Bonucci both quitting sends out terrible message

When Leonardo Bonucci decided to return to Juventus last summer after just one season at AC Milan, team-mate Suso admitted, “He feels he took a step back signing for us and that is why he is going back to Juventus.”

Despite receiving “several offers” from elsewhere himself, the Spanish winger insisted that he was happy to stay put, buoyed by the club’s acquisition of then Bianconeri forward Gonzalo Higuain.

“When the project is interesting and players like him arrive,” he reasoned, “it is always positive.”

However, Chelsea-bound Higuain deciding he’s had enough after just six months at San Siro has done nothing but cast the club in a depressingly negative light.

Milan have signed two champions in the past 18 months. Both quickly lost faith in the “project” they were initially so keen to embrace and extol. 

Of course, there were other, more emotional, factors involved in their respective departures.

Bonucci only left Juventus in the first place because of a falling out with coach Massimiliano Allegri, admitting that his decision to move to Milan – which was completed in just 48 hours – was “taken in a moment of anger”. 

Higuain, meanwhile, has been seduced by the prospect of a reunion with Maurizio Sarri, the man that inspired his record-breaking 36-goal season at Napoli. 

Suso Bonuci Higuain AC Milan PS

However, neither Bonucci nor Higuain would have thrown in the towel had they been utterly convinced by Milan’s ability to reclaim their place among the game’s elite.

In April 2018, Bonucci publicly called for the addition of “international class players” at the end of the season. However, by that point, rumours were already rife that Milan’s Chinese owners, Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, didn’t have the requisite funds to make their loan repayments. 

As a result, the club fell into the hands of Elliott Management Corporation. Following the transfer of ownership to the American hedge fund, Rossoneri fans feared asset-stripping i.e. the immediate sale of the club’s top players.

However, Elliott have instead elected to do something that their predecessors would not, namely manage the Rossoneri in a sensible and shrewd fashion.

Bonucci was allowed to return “home” but Milan secured the services of the promising young centre-half Mattia Caldara in return, while they also snapped up Higuain on loan for €18 million with a view to a permanent transfer at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

However, with Higuain now on his way to Stamford Bridge, Milan’s hopes of securing a return to the Champions League have taken a major hit.

Granted, they are only two points behind fourth-placed Roma in the Serie A standings with a game in hand, at Genoa on Monday, but the December 29 victory over SPAL just before the winter break represented a first in five games for Gennaro Gattuso’s men.

Higuain scored the winner that day and declared afterwards, “I came to Milan because I was convinced by the project here and I want to continue like this. Now we’ve got the Supercoppa; it’s the first trophy of the season and we want to win.”

Paolo Maldini Gennaro AC Milan

Gennaro Gattuso Paolo Maldini AC Milan

Paolo Maldini Leonardo AC Milan

Paolo Maldini Leonardo AC Milan

Milan didn’t win, though, beaten by a solitary strike from Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday evening, and Higuain didn’t even start. The party line was that he was suffering from a fever but he appeared in the second half as the Rossoneri tried to turn the game around.

In reality, he began on the bench because it was already clear that he was heading for the exit door, with Milan hoping to replace him with Krzysztof Piatek.

It could well prove an inspired move on Milan’s part: the Pole may have been a virtual unknown six months ago but the 23-year-old has taken Serie A by storm this season, netting 13 goals since joining Genoa last summer.

However, the Rossoneri’s ability to hold on to their last two statement signings offers a painful reminder for the fans that there will be no swift solution to the financial problems left behind by the previous owners, who spent €233 million on new players in the summer of 2017 yet were forced to hand over control to Elliott last year.

In addition, the appointment of Ivan Gazidis as chief executive has been greeted with understandable caution. He is credited with doing stellar work from a commercial perspective at his former club but Arsenal went backwards in a sporting sense during his decade at the Emirates. 

The Gunners lost a host of top players while he was at the helm – usually at knockdown prices because their contracts had been carelessly allowed to wind down – and his Emirates legacy is a grossly inflated wage bill that is presently preventing the club from doing any permanent deals during the current transfer window. 

On the plus side, the new Milan administration features former players with the club’s best interests at heart, chief among them director general Leonardo, a charismatic and intelligent individual with a proven track record when it comes to attracting top talent, most notably at Paris Saint-Germain.  

The addition of Paolo Maldini to the team as sporting strategy and development director also bodes well, given the defensive icon turned down a plethora of previous offers to rejoin the club in an administerial role because he was unconvinced by the financial and sporting viability of the projects overseen first by Barbara Berlusconi – daughter of former owner Silvio – and then Li Yonghong.

Leonardo AC Milan PS

“The beautiful thing about today is that we know have myself, Paolo and Gennaro in the sporting sector of the club,” Leonardo enthused at the start of the season.

Still, the Brazilian has repeatedly stated that due to the excesses of the recent past, he and his former team-mates and current colleagues remain financially hamstrung.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with Financial Fair Play (FFP),” he recently explained. “Everyone knows this, so, January will be a window not of major deals but opportunities. There will be exits so that there will be arrivals.

“Nowadays, one has to work the market with the FFP manual in hand. But if this Milan finishes fourth, then we will have a major window in June.

“However, if the club’s goals are not met, there will be no major signings and the current players on big deals will not be retained.

“But, sooner or later, we will get where we want to go.”

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Obviously, Milan’s fans, so accustomed success, are growing impatient but there is no quick fix to the mess left behind by Li & Co.

The prospect of the seven-time European champions once again stockpiling superstars remains a long way off.

Indeed, as the losses of Bonucci and Higuain have shown, just keeping a hold of their best players is proving difficult enough for Milan right now.


Higuain dropped by Milan ahead of Chelsea move

Gonzalo Higuain has been left out of Milan’s squad to face Genoa, with head coach Gennaro Gattuso effectively confirming the Argentina striker has decided he wants to join Chelsea.

Higuain came off the bench during the second half of the Supercoppa Italiana defeat to Juventus last time out – a decision Gattuso attributed to the player suffering from a virus.

He was not listed when Milan tweeted their 23-man travelling party for Monday’s match at Stadio Luigi Ferraris and, at a subsequent news conference, Gattuso questioned Higuain’s professionalism and insisted recent speculation had taken its toll with Milan managing two wins in their past eight outings.

“I want to be honest with you all. We had a poor training session today due to all these rumours,” Gattuso said.

“We spoke after the training session and I did not consider him [Higuain] ready for this game.

“I accept his decision. Surely he could have done more and maybe we could have helped him fit in better.

“Right now we have to work with professionalism and determination, all these rumours have not helped us lately and we have to look ahead.

“I am more worried about how to transmit calmness to the players and how to field the best team. Tomorrow [Monday] we will be without four players and I am a bit worried. We have to put it aside and play with enthusiasm.

Higuain joined Milan on an initial season-long loan deal in August, with Milan having the option to buy him outright for €36million.

That part of the transfer was assumed to be a formality but an underwhelming return of six goals in 15 Serie A appearances – and one since the end of October – leave the 31-year-old bound for a reunion with his old Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri.

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Chelsea lie fourth in the Premier League, although Sarri lambasted his players in the aftermath of Saturday’s 2-0 London derby loss to Arsenal, accusing them of lacking motivation and a strong mentality.

Eden Hazard cut a forlorn figure when selected once again as the Blues’ central attacker – a role Higuain is expected to step straight into with Sarri seemingly reluctant to start Olivier Giroud and having left Alvaro Morata out of his latest matchday squad. The Spain striker has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid.

During his final season under Sarri at Napoli in 2015-16, Higuain set a Serie A scoring record with 36 goals in 35 top-flight appearances.