Confusion spread among Chelsea fans on deadline day, after the announcement that the club had reached an agreement with Torino for the £25 million transfer of Davide Zappacosta. All in all, it had been a disappointing transfer window for the Blues. Oxlade-Chamberlain had decided to leave London for the lofty heights of Liverpool, Juventus continued to play hard ball on Alex Sandro, Fernando Llorente decided to go valiantly attempt to dislodge Kane from his guaranteed starting position in the Tottenham XI, and even a reported late bid for Rafinha failed. The purchase of Zappacosta seemed to shout of desperation and a sheer lack of other ideas for defensive reinforcements.
Zappacosta, five-times capped by Italy, was never a name Blues fans were reading about in the daily transfer rumours. The need for defensive depth had been apparent for months, especially with multiple defenders leaving the club recently. Zouma, Ake, Kalas and of course, Terry, had all departed and only Rüdiger was brought in up until deadline day, leaving the Blues alarmingly short for cover in the wing-back roles.
Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso did an exceptional job in the right and left-back roles respectively last season. Moses made the position his own, finally finding a home on the right-handed side of Stamford Bridge after a succession of loans away. Alonso, also a deadline-day signing from Italy, has been a fantasy football manager’s dream since he bustled his way into the starting 11, scoring goals and helping the Blues on their way to clean sheets galore.
However, with the return of the Champions League, as well as a desire for long domestic cup runs, Antonio Conte knew that the pair could not be expected to play in every game this season. Azpilicueta, usually an almost faultless defender, has been used as cover on both sides of the pitch in the wing-back role, but this reduces his effectiveness as part of the central back three, where he has truly begun to shine as one of the Premier League’s best defenders. This lack of depth left Conte in an alarming position as the clock began to tick on August 31.
Conte’s Mentorship to Prove Key
Step up Davide Zappacosta, the 25-year-old born in Sora, Italy. With just two seasons under his belt at Torino, Chelsea have seen fit to part with a significantly large fee for a relatively unknown defender. As soon as the signing was announced, questions began to spring up on every Chelsea forum on the web. Can he stand up to the rigours of the Premier League? Does he have the attacking ability needed in the wing-back role? Who is he, again?
Luckily for Chelsea, if anyone can get the best of a wing-back, it is Antonio Conte. Ask the thousands of Blues fans who mercilessly mocked the signing of Alonso last year, only to watch him turn into one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League. But what can fans look forward to seeing from Zappacosta in the coming seasons?
The stand-out trait Zappacosta brings is the ability to cross a ball exceedingly well. According to WhoScored.com, he completed 1.7 crosses per game last season, along with 1.6 long balls a match. Alvaro Morata, who has already managed two goals with his head this season, must be licking his lips at the prospect of consistent crosses coming into the box, especially as this has proved to be a chink in Moses’ armour. From these crosses, Zappacosta managed to knock up five assists for Torino last year, whilst also pitching in with one goal. Notably, attacking seems to be his stronger characteristic, and Conte must focus on improving the Italian’s defending ability.
Zappacosta managed an average of 1.5 tackles and two clearances per game last season; Alonso achieved twice the amount on each count. The difference between the two defenders can be exacerbated when you remember that Chelsea, and Alonso, are a team rarely on the backfoot in the Premier League, so the need to defend is usually pretty low. However, Torino finished ninth in Seria A last season, conceding 66 goals, offering plenty of opportunity for Zappacosta to flex his defensive prowess.
Whilst the Italian will not be expected to go straight into the first team, the man from Torino will, at first, be tasked with providing squad cover to Moses, and playing in the lesser demanding games. This will allow both Conte and the Blues fans time to get to know their new signing, and to fully gauge just how good a defender he can become. Zappacosta is at the ripe age of 25; he will soon be reaching his prime and the Premier League should be the ultimate test for the new face of the Blues’ defence.