The summer’s biggest buyers probably did not need a salutary warning that spending can lead to years of regret. They got one anyway. Chelsea may have paid out over £200 million (Dh950m) this year but their club record arrival joined in 2018 and Kepa Arrizabalaga remains their £71 million white elephant, the shot-stopper who saves too few shots and the goalkeeper who lets in too many goals.
Chelsea may have had their most ambitious overhaul since 2003 but their start has been defined by Arrizabalaga. Perhaps Sunday's 2-0 defeat to Liverpool will prove his final game, but that has been said before, and maybe the goal he gifted to Sadio Mane will be his leaving present, but his resale value, already a fraction of his purchase price, is reduced with his every appearance. Arrizabalaga may linger, unwanted, just as Danny Drinkwater does, but Frank Lampard has confirmed that Willy Caballero will start the Carabao Cup tie with Barnsley and, if Edouard Mendy's move from Rennes is not completed, the veteran looks the safer choice for Saturday's trip to West Bromwich Albion.
The Liverpool game represented a chance to kickstart a new era with a statement. Seventeen years ago, Chelsea did that, Roman Abramovich’s first spending spree producing a 2-1 win at Anfield with one of the glamorous recruits, Juan Sebastian Veron, on the scoresheet. There was no action replay, even if Chelsea can hope newer examples of their pulling power, such as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, have a more lasting impact than Veron.
And yet Sunday arguably felt another defeat for the 2019/20 Chelsea. Lampard was without five of his probable strongest side; Chelsea were at half strength when it is factored in that Havertz is not at his sharpest and was removed in a half time rejig after going down to 10 men. The futuristic forward line surely also includes both Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, but neither is fit yet.
It is fairer to judge them when they have a competent goalkeeper and when Thiago Silva is marshalling the defence, rather than watching on from the stands, though it is a moot point if a man who turns 36 on Tuesday would have done better than Andreas Christensen in keeping up with Mane in full flight. At left-back, Marcos Alonso was beaten too easily in the build-up to the Senegalese’s opener. Ben Chilwell, the expensive upgrade, should be available to debut soon.
Goalkeeper, centre-back, left-back: they were Chelsea’s three main requirements. It is where there is most scope for improvement and most need. The presumption is that Kurt Zouma is first in line to partner Silva, even if it feels odd that Antonio Rudiger has gone from first- to last-choice central defender. But that speaks to the struggle to find a combination, which Thiago’s leadership ought to help resolve.
Qualifying for the Champions League represented an achievement last season, but not merely because of the imposition of a transfer ban. Chelsea conceded 54 goals, the most by a top-four side in the Premier League years. It is unsustainable – indeed, no one has become champions of England when letting in as many since Tottenham in 1960/61 – even if the figure feels slightly deceptive. Only Manchester City conceded fewer shots last season, but Arrizabalaga’s failings gave Chelsea’s goalkeepers much the lowest save percentage in the division.
The highest in Premier League history was Petr Cech’s 91.3 per cent in a Chelsea team in 2006/07 that also featured Lampard. They were defined by their toughness, but the side he has coached has had a soft underbelly. Mendy, Thiago and Chilwell must be charged with changing that, newcomers told to bring back the Chelsea of old.