The cunning Chelsea and Fulham swap deal that could turbocharge both clubs' seasons

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Chelsea and Fulham are already reported to be in transfer negotiations - but could a swap deal make more sense?

First he was linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, and now it’s Fulham – but wherever he ends up, it looks a lot like Trevoh Chalobah’s time with Chelsea is drawing to a close. The 24-year-old centre-half, not so long ago a regular feature in the matchday squad at Stamford Bridge, hasn’t feature this season thanks to injury, and may well never play under Mauricio Pochettino at all.

Given Chelsea’s desire to generate further transfer funds by selling home-grown players, Fulham’s desire to bolster their defence with Tosin Adarabioyo looking likely to leave at the end of the season, and Chalobah’s own need to be playing regular first-team football and build upon his early promise, a switch to Craven Cottage makes plenty of sense.

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The rumours around the potential move suggest that Chalobah would move to Fulham – where his elder brother Nathaniel played for two seasons before joining West Bromwich Albion in the summer – on an initial loan deal, with an option to buy in the region of £20-25m. But given Chelsea’s many needs in the transfer market, one wonders whether they shouldn’t look to engineer a transfer which sees a current Fulham player move the other way.

There are still a couple of glaring gaps in Pochettino’s squad, but depth at full-back is among the more urgent needs. At left-back, Ben Chilwell has been spending too much time on the treatment table while Marc Cucurella, who has had fitness problems of his own, has proven unreliable at best. As a result, the excellent Levi Colwill has been deputising on the left side of defence, and while has been superb for the most part, he is a natural centre-back and Chelsea will need him there when Thiago Silva leaves in the summer, as seems very likely.

It also doesn’t help the case for planning a future for Colwill at left-back that he doesn’t offer the same kind of penetration going forward that a wing-back like Chilwell does. Chelsea need somebody who can combine defensive duties with the capacity to move the ball forward quickly to support the attack – and Antonee Robinson fits the profile pretty well.

The American international has been one of Fulham’s most consistent performers this season, and has improved dramatically over the last two years, especially in terms of his defensive ability. His tackling success rate is impressive, but where he really shines is in his reading of the game and anticipation of where opponents will play the next ball – he makes a massive 2.49 interceptions per game, and contributes more than three blocks and clearances every 90 minutes he plays, superb numbers for a full-back. Where once he tended to get caught out of position or lose his man at the back post, how he gets to the ball first and deals with danger.

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And he offers plenty going forward, too. While he doesn’t have the same quality with the final ball as Chilwell – his cross success rate of around 25% is fairly respectable but 10% lower than the England left-back’s – where he does shine is in his ability to get down the flank at speed and provide passing options for his team-mates. He uses the ball when he gets it well, too, and his dribbling is excellent, allowing him to break out of defence quickly in possession and to beat his man and get into dangerous areas in the final third.

Robinson isn’t as good as Chilwell going forward, but he is stronger in the tackle and generates more turnovers. At 26 he is slightly younger and has a better fitness record – and he would significantly strengthen Chelsea’s depth, giving them a reliable rotational option and the extra body they need to move Colwill into the middle on a more permanent basis.

Would Fulham be willing to sell Robinson? Perhaps not. He is an important player, a near ever-present in the Premier League (he has started every game bar the home game to Luton Town when he was injured) and is highly valued by Marco Silva. Transfermarkt estimates his transfer value as €20m (£17.1m), which feels on the low end given that he has a contract which runs until 2028 – but it is lower than the reported fee being discussed for Chalobah, so perhaps a swap deal could make sense for both parties. Fulham would get the centre-back they need, and Chelsea would get a proven Premier League performer without having to resort to their own rather patchy scouting.

And Robinson himself would finally get the chance to play for a blue chip club that once passed him by when he failed a medical at AC Milan before he moved to Craven Cottage. Back then he was a fresh-faced breakthrough act at Wigan Athletic, and while his progress hasn’t been quite as meteoric as some anticipated when he first came to public attention, his performances this season suggest that he is finally living up to a lot of the early hype. Chelsea could be the perfect platform for him to finish his development.

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Still, using Chalobah to engineer a trade for Robinson doesn’t sound too on brand for Todd Boehly’s Chelsea. It would be sensible, economical and not particularly flashy. That isn’t how Chelsea have operated since the takeover, and there haven’t been too many signs that they plan to change tack just yet. So chances are that we’ll see Chalobah move on and that be the end of that – but it isn’t too hard to imagine Robinson getting a big move one day soon. He’s considerably better than a lot of people realise.

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