Jules Kounde has reportedly informed Sevilla that he would prefer to join Barcelona over Chelsea this summer. The Catalan side are believed to be weighing up a swap proposal that would allow them to skirt around the deal’s financial demands, leaving the Blues high and dry in their pursuit of two new centre-backs before the start of next season.
Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have already agreed deals to leave Chelsea on free transfers, with the duo heading off to Real Madrid and Barca respectively. That leaves Thomas Tuchel with two first-team vacancies to fill while dealing with new owner Todd Boehly.
Having engaged in numerous negotiations with Sevilla over the last 12 months, Kounde was viewed by many to be a banker for Chelsea this summer. But in a major blow for the Blues, Mundo Deportivo claim that the Frenchman has told his club that a move to Barcelona would be his preference.
A fee of around £50million would be no problem for Chelsea, or indeed Newcastle United who have also shown an interest in the 23-year-old. But Barca are supposedly weighing up whether Sevilla would bite at a potential swap proposal.
Flying full-back Sergino Dest has been touted as one option Barca could explore, with Sevilla still counting on 36-year-old Jesus Navas on the right side of defence. Valued at around £20m, the American would take a fair chunk out of the fee that La Blaugrana would have to shell out for Kounde.
Whether Barca press ahead with the ambitious plan remains to be seen, but it is clear that Chelsea are set to encounter more hurdles the longer they wait to make their decisive move. Another twist was sent their way this week when Kounde fell injured while playing for France, requiring minor surgery that is set to keep him sidelined for at least a month.
The Blues had hoped that the defender’s injury issues would help them negotiate a lower price with Sevilla, who were thought to be keen on auctioning off the star as quickly as possible so that they could set about finding his replacement. But Tuchel and co may now be under more pressure to cough up given that Barca are reportedly breathing down their necks.
Chelsea are set for a crucial few weeks of the summer transfer window as they bid to recruit two top centre-backs before others get there first. RB Leipzig duo Marcel Halstenberg and Josko Gvardiol have both been linked with moves to Stamford Bridge, and while the former reportedly rejected the prospect of a free transfer, little progress has been made regarding the latter.
Tuchel has a daunting task on his hands to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool, who finished almost 20 points ahead in the race for the Premier League title last term. And there could be pressure from behind too, given the rate at which Antonio Conte has been allowed to strengthen his Tottenham side.
Finding a solution to Romelu Lukaku’s situation will also be high on the German’s priority list. The out-of-form frontman is reportedly trying to force through a loan move to Inter Milan – the club he left in a whopping £98m deal last summer.