Rewind two years back to the conclusion of the 2014 World Cup and Stefan de Vrij was one of the most in-demand central defenders in existence.
De Vrij was one of the unsung heroes who helped Holland make a surprise appearance in the semi-finals and he was named in the team of the tournament by official sponsors Castrol for his commanding displays.
His defensive involvement was second to none at the World Cup, leading the way for interceptions, placing second for successful tackles and third for clearances.
The surprise was that Lazio beat off competition from a number of higher-profile suitors to snare his signature and his debut season in Serie A in 2014/15 was also impressive.
Lazio had finished no better than seventh in the previous two campaigns, but improved into third, one point adrift of second-placed Roma. Their 38 goals conceded was the club’s lowest since 2007 and was achieved despite De Vrij having an assortment of central-defensive partners.
The main reason De Vrij’s name has slipped from the radar in the last 12 months is because of injury. He managed only two Serie A appearances last term because of a left knee problem, which required surgery.
Without the Dutchman to marshal their back line, Lazio slipped back into the mid-table of Serie A.
However, the seriousness of the injury doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for Antonio Conte, who has reportedly now set his sights on the 24-year-old to bolster his Chelsea defence.
With the Blues put off by Napoli’s asking price for Kalidou Koulibaly and progress minimal on any attempt to recruit Leonardo Bonucci, De Vrij may now be the answer to strengthening a defence without Kurt Zouma until September at the earliest.
Conte has lined up in more of a 4-2-4 formation at Chelsea in pre-season ahead of his typical three-man backline, with De Vrij having suitable experience in both.
Suggestions of a £15m price tag look on the cheap side if De Vrij retains his level of form from before his injury and he and Zouma have the potential to prove a formidable defensive pairing over the coming years if teamed together.
Chelsea are 6/1 to win the Premier League this season and having already strengthened in attack and midfield this summer through the acquisitions of Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kante, another defender now seems top priority.