What Chelsea Need to Prioritize in January
Tis the season Chelsea fans!!! The time has finally arrived as we usher out the old year and help ring in the New Year with some possible new signings. January is notorious for ludicrous news articles, unfeasible transfer rumors, and the occasional desperate purpose. For Chelsea, this has historically been a time of success. Many successful transfers such as David Luiz in his first stint, Kurt Zouma (sent back to St. Etienne on loan), and Gary Cahill have made their way to the club in recent mid-season windows. With that being said, how will this January pan out? It’s time to examine who the Blues should be looking at and where more squad depth is necessary.
If Chelsea fans were told last season that they would be top of the league with the best defensive record in the Premier League by January; they would have laughed. Well, surprise! Chelsea’s ability to defend has been crucial in our success. In particular, our back three of Cahill, Azpilicueta, and David Luiz have been standouts. Luiz has proven all the doubters that he is certainly top class, so much so that he has even kept the Captain, Leader, Legend John Terry out of the lineup.
The fact of the matter is that Kurt Zouma is getting back into fitness to potentially rival Cahill on the outside of the three. John Terry remains out of the lineup due to the form of David Luiz, and we still have Andreas Christiansen and Nathan Ake returning from their loan spells at the end of the season. So do we really need cover? Not really. We have the ability to cope with the current options that are available at the moment so unless there is an absolute top class center back available in January, Abramovich will not be writing a check for this position anytime soon. How does the saying go? If it is not broken, do not fix it!
When it comes to wingbacks, the need for more cover becomes increasingly transparent. Let us first start off by giving credit where credit is due. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have been superb since being slotted into the starting eleven. Although much work is needed defensively for both of them, they clearly look the part. They not only pose potential goal threats, but have the ability to spray balls into the box and break down defenses accordingly.
However, if there is one position the squad is lacking depth in, it is wingbacks. Sure, Azpi can cover on the right if need be, but do we really want to disrupt the chemistry of that back three? Branislav Ivanovic has been used sparingly to kill games off, but he certainly not a natural replacement to fill the void on the right if Moses goes down. Ola Aina looks like a prospect, but he still lacks the experience to get us through the rest of the season.
For all of who did not know already, Kenedy is back from his unsuccessful loan spell in Watford. He already has received his new squad number and might factor into Conte’s plans going forward. Sure, he is no stranger to playing as a left back which is where Guus Hiddink played him last season, but it is too early to tell how he factors into Conte’s plans. Question marks still remain over his defensive abilities as he was exposed on multiple occasions last season on the left side of a traditional back four.
Our best bet in this situation would be to take advantage of the transfer window. Chelsea has been linked with plenty of names in the past such as Stephan Lichsteiner, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Mattia De Sciglio. Unfortunately, it is January and the fact of the matter is that none of these clubs are going to want to sell their top players. One name in particular stands out, and it is one that Antonio Conte has had his eye on since his days at Juventus.
Diego Laxalt, 23, currently plays his trade at Genoa after brief loan spells at Bologna and Empoli from Inter Milan. The Uruguayan has been fielded on the left side of a midfield four since joining his current club. According to The Mirror, Conte has been a longtime admirer of the potential that Laxalt poses. A quick, pacey dribbler who can unlock defenses with his direct play and flair would certainly give Conte more options in the wide areas of the midfield. What Marcos Alonso lacks, the Uraguayan posesses and that is the ability to improve our attacking options on the left flank. Although his goal output is still far from perfect, in his 17 appearances this season he has created 22 chances. He definitely will not be the big name, marquee signing Chelsea fans usually hope for, but he possesses the right quality to become a fan favorite should he arrive at the bridge.
In terms of midfield options, the club looks incredibly solid. What Antonio Conte has done in terms of reviving Nemanja Matic is nothing short of miraculous. He is finally looking like the player of ‘14/’15 next to N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman is arguably the signing of the season and provides the Blues with an engine to boss the midfield and retain possession. Our options only improve with the resurgence of Cesc Fabregas. Initially held out of the squad in the beginning of the season, he is proving his worth by providing the Blues with a much needed playmaking role. It is difficult to talk about the midfield without mentioning our most promising youngster, Nathaniel Chalobah. He is heavily favored by Antonio Conte and is called upon week in and week out to close out matches.
Unfortunately, Fabregas does not seem like a long term option at Chelsea, and with the unloading of Oscar along with the inevitable departure of Ruben Loftus Cheek (loan) and John Obi Mikel, the squad depth is beginning to thin. Sure, all Chelsea fans alike are extremely excited about Chalobah, however, more options in the midfield will be crucial heading into next season where rotation is expected due to Champions League fixtures. With the 60 million dollars the club received for the sale of Oscar, a signing is on the horizon. Conte needs to strengthen the squad to prepare for next season, and a mid-season purchase will give him a head start.
Franck Kessie, 20, of Atalanta is a true box to box midfielder with extremely high potential. He has been a mainstay in the center of the park for his current club who is overachieving in the Serie A resting, in sixth place. Deemed the next “Yaya Toure,” Kessie offers more than just one specialized role. He can carry the ball from deep positions and dribble his way out of pressure, he can shrug defenders off with his physicality, and he even gets stuck in defensively. In his 16 appearances this season, Kessie managed six goals and one assist playing a pivotal role for his club thus far. The difficult part of obtaining this 25 million pound player, is convincing him to not succumb to his other suitors which include Leicester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Everton. If Chelsea are really interested in him, they must go all out.
Another option that would certainly have Chelsea fans licking their lips would be Marco Verratti, 24. From a deep lying playmaker position he has managed to create 15 chances in 13appearances for Paris Saint Germaine this season. His ability to control possession and begin attacking sequences is undeniably top class. In reality, this does not seem like a sure thing thanks to the traditional lack of marquee movement in the January window. PSG has to take into account that they may not be able to replace him should they sell this month. With that being said, anything is possible, and Antonio Conte is still working to add his own pieces to the side. Thanks to Oscar’s sale, we now have a war chest going into January and might be able to put an offer on the table that PSG will find hard not to resist. Surely, if this move does happen, Conte will mold him into the next Andrea Pirlo.
A massive contribution to the title challenge this season can be attributed to the front three of Pedro, Eden Hazard, and Diego Costa. They have scored 27 out of the 42 total goals for this season. When in form, they seem nearly unstoppable. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa in particular look like they are back at their best and have clearly put last season behind them. Pedro on the other hand, did not seem like he looked comfortable in the Premier League last year, however, this season is completely different as he has had his fingerprints all over this years’ title charge.
Our other options are brilliant footballers without a doubt. Willian in particular, who can provide competition for that starting position out on the right of Costa, would slot into any other Premier League side. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian was left out of the starting 11 against Bournemouth recently, a match in which Costa was not available. The gaffer, Antonio Conte, went with the unexpected three of Pedro, Willian, and Hazard instead who went on and proved he made the right call. The lack of depth in the striker position became a reality when Conte admitted that Batshuayi is not quite up to speed in terms of obtaining game time. So where does Chelsea go from here?
Let’s first begin by addressing the elephant in the room, James Rodriguez. Chelsea fans were left gob-smacked after various sources claimed James was well on his way to the Premier League. This does not seem too far-fetched, especially now considering that Real Madrid might be willing to sell due to the shortening of their transfer ban which ends this summer. It is no secret that James wants a move and Chelsea would be an ideal place to get his career back on track. He was seen in Columbia on suspicion of getting a U.K work visa as well which only heightened speculation. Obtaining James would be a literal Grand Slam especially considering the fact that we are already favorites for the title. Jorge Mendez, James’ agent, already claimed that the player is not going anywhere this January. Well, I can think of 60 million reasons why he would make a move thanks to Oscar. Let’s be honest Chelsea fans, if this move was to go through, we would be immediately catapulted into the European elite in which Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich reside. With that being said, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that these rumors can gain some truth.
Other Uses with Our “War Chest”
Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois, and Eden Hazard are considered to be the present and future of Chelsea Football Club. They are definitely the present, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will commit to the future. The club needs to make sure that they are fully committed to the furture. All three of these men have been linked with moves away this past summer; coincidentally, all of them to different parts of Madrid. This goes without saying that these men are highly sought after. It is extremely difficult to find not only a world class strike partnership, but a world class goalkeeper as well. For this reason, Chelsea should make it a main priority to lock these guys down for the long term. In a perfect world Roman Abramovich whips out the checkbook and hands out money to our three best players like its candy. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Diego Costa is currently in negotiations for a new 200,000 pound a week contract extension while talks with Courtois and Hazard are to take place as well. The club already nailed a brilliant move by extending Azpilicueta’s contract last month, and must make all the necessary moves to ensure that Costa, Courtois, and Hazard are in it for the long haul.
Chelsea Football Club has a bright and affluent future ahead of them. Along with a massive amount of cash to spend, and the “tailoring” of this new and improved Antonio Conte side, future transfer dealings is a certainty. Although the team has been incredibly successful this season, the project is far from over and the month of January will prove that.