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Boga: Should Chelsea take another look at Sassuolo star?

Careers can turn on moments, and Jeremie Boga's time at Chelsea may well have turned out differently if one specific match had gone another way for the Ivory Coast international.

The Sassuolo wideman left Chelsea in 2018 after lan deals with Stade Rennais, Granada and Birmingham City from 2015, but things might have panned out differently if the Blues’ encounter with Burnley at the start of the 2017-18 season had gone according to plan.

Antonio Conte failed to truly improve his team during a frustrating summer window, and Boga was a shock inclusion from the start against the Clarets, only to have his debut cut short after 18 minutes following Gary Cahill’s early red card.

Even though the general consensus was that the ex-Juventus boss was sending a message to the board with his selection at Stamford Bridge, an extended period on the pitch may have led to the talented Ivory Coast international making an impression, proving his worth, and staying at Stamford Bridge, rather than be cast off to Birmingham.

Boga has ultimately had to make his name in a different context, although there are no guarantees that he'd have been in a better position had he remained in West London.

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Given the unrest at the club in that campaign, and the heated atmosphere at the Bridge last season under Maurizio Sarri, the youngster’s development may have been stunted by that pressure. Also, the presence of Eden Hazard at the club could have been a stumbling block to the youngster’s path, so maybe it was best that he left for Sassuolo two years ago.

Since the Ivorian’s departure, the Belgian magician has departed Stamford Bridge, a club legend who seems to show belief in the club’s youth players and academy products has returned, while Boga has grown under Roberto De Zerbi’s coaching since 2018.

2018-19 served as his bedding-in year, which is reflected in his numbers; Boga netted three times and set up one in 25 Serie A appearances, although only 14 were starts.

A scoring frequency of a goal every 480 minutes wasn’t particularly encouraging, but that could be attributed to not playing regularly, while the Chelsea academy graduate rarely received the ball in dangerous positions.

There’s been a marked improvement this season, with Boga hitting the back of the net eight times while registering two assists before the campaign’s suspension in early March. It’s his best return by far, and it would be a shame if the season were to be voided, and his numbers consequently erased.

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The 23-year-old’s scoring frequency reads a goal every 234 minutes, which isn’t breathtaking, but is significantly better than previous campaigns. He’s taken more touches this year, plays more key passes per game and spends more time in the opposition half compared to the 18-19 season.

Boga’s explosiveness and dribbling ability has put him at the top of the dribbling charts in the Italian top flight, although it's his improved end product which has surely alerted some of Europe's biggest clubs, and prompted Chelsea to reportedly consider re-activating the buy-back clause for the attacking midfielder.

With Frank Lampard’s men set to lose the services of Willian and Pedro Rodriguez when their contracts run out later this year, he may seek reinforcements, even though he will be able to call upon Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi as recognised widemen.

As such, bringing back Boga would make sense, as it would give Lampard more options out wide and, in theory, two wingers each for both positions.

Be that as it may, there are doubts as to whether the five-time Premier League champions should be adding another player with potential to an already young squad. Lampard's side started the season well, but tailed off, as the rigours of the campaign got too much for them. This has led to an alarming slump since late November.

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There’s the perception that a certain profile of player, possibly one in his mid-20s or above, should be targeted to help Chelsea compensate for their inexperience and naivety.

The major reason Ziyech’s signing was cheered is due to his knack of consistently influencing games through his creativity and end product for Ajax, something currently lacking in the side.

While Boga has shown this year he can be more than simply a dribbler, it’s just one campaign and it may be wise to monitor him for another season in Italy to be sure this campaign’s numbers aren’t a one-off.

Still, the Ivorian could well represent a cost-effective alternative to Jadon Sancho, who is reportedly Lampard’s number one priority for the next transfer window, but the Blues could be priced out of the move for the precocious Borussia Dortmund youngster.

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Even though he’s only 20, the Manchester City academy graduate has proven to be special talent, with 31 goals and 42 assists in just 90 games since moving to Germany. They're numbers that seasoned professionals would be proud of.

Thus, unlike the Sassuolo man, arguments about Sancho's age, inexperience and doubts about his end product can’t be used against him.

Admittedly, Boga has grown since that brief debut at Stamford Bridge nearly three ago, and may return to the club later this year. Still, Chelsea fans will have to be patient with the playmaker, who can still be frustrating from time to time.

Boga's not the finished article, but his technical qualities would make him an entertaining addition for Chelsea and, potentially, the kind of match-winner who could help replace the losses of Pedro and Willian.