After missing out on the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fernando Llorente and Ross Barkley in their frantic Deadline Day shopping spree, Chelsea managed to land Danny Drinkwater in a late-night raid on Leicester.
The signing of the 27-year-old England international went some way to appeasing manager Antonio Conte, who had been left frustrated by the club’s failure to bring in his primary transfer targets.
But, at £35million, Drinkwater isn’t a cheap reinforcement – especially for a player many expect to simply offer back-up in an already well-equipped central midfield.
Drinkwater’s arrival only adds to Antonio Conte’s options in central midfield
Nonetheless, Conte was well aware greater strength-in-depth was essential with the Premier League champions’ return to the Champions League increasingly the workload this season.
In that regard, Drinkwater was a very necessary purchase, a player who brings Chelsea bite, energy, creativity and reliability in a crucial part of the field.
He will be, at the very least, a willing and able back-up, with the potential of establishing himself more firmly in Conte’s plans if he can produce consistent excellence when given his chance.
The expectation is that N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko will be the first-choice central midfield pairing in Conte’s favoured 3-4-3 system this season.
Kante enjoyed another exceptional season in 2016-17 and won the league title once again
A comparison of the stats for Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante over the past two seasons show how they brought the best out of one another when playing together for Leicester City during the 2015-16 campaign. Stats courtesy of Opta
Signing Bakayoko from Monaco for £40m earlier in the summer was one of Chelsea’s more hassle-free pieces of transfer business and the Frenchman is raring to go having recovered from knee surgery.
The idea is to partner him with compatriot Kante, who simply cannot be dropped from the team following the brilliance last season that earned him the PFA and FWA best player awards.
Kante was Chelsea’s midfield pass master, maintaining a passing accuracy of 88 per cent throughout the Premier League season, as well as covering miles for the cause.
But while he forged a very effective central midfield partnership with Nemanja Matic, now at Manchester United, Kante didn’t quite repeat the same numbers as he did in Leicester’s title campaign of 2015-16.
And his central midfield partner then, of course, was Drinkwater, giving Conte food for thought that those two may be the optimal pairing.
In that unforgettable Leicester season, Drinkwater played 3,038 minutes of Premier League football and Kante 3,020.
The two players brought the best out of one another – for both, their numbers of duels won, tackles made, assists, chances created, clearances and blocks together at Leicester that year are all higher than the figures from last season.
Kante and Drinkwater know each other’s games inside out and proved instrumental in propelling a Leicester side seen as relegation candidates to the most miraculous of title wins.
So reuniting the pair at Chelsea is not something Conte should shy away from. And if Kante and Bakayoko is to be the first choice, then Kante and Drinkwater is certainly a very good back-up.
The other possible combinations, depending on the opposition, involve deploying Cesc Fabregas alongside one of the three.
The Spaniard isn’t as high as he would like in the pecking order, and struggled to break into a settled team last season, but still offers moments of class when given the chance.
One way of accommodating Fabregas would be to play a 3-4-1-2 system with Fabregas in behind forwards Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, with Drinkwater and Kante, or possibly an advanced David Luiz, anchoring.
Against Tottenham last month, Conte played a 3-5-1-1 set-up, featuring Bakayoko, Luiz and Kante as central midfielders, to excellent effect.
Chelsea will fight on four fronts this season, with their return to the Champions League setting a demanding two or three games a week rhythm.
While Conte may have been annoyed about a lack of reinforcements in other areas, there can be no complaints about the central midfield, which looks rock solid.
The number of different combinations involving Kante, Fabregas, Bakayoko and Drinkwater should cater for all situations and opponents.
As for Drinkwater, while opportunities may be more at a premium, he has the qualities to more than hold his own.