Third in the league; the only unbeaten side in Europe’s top five leagues, in all competitions; still under transition and transformation of new management. Many teams would like to be in Chelsea’s position. But yet, still, there are questions regarding the Blues’ title credentials. Do they have the temperament to grind games out and to win ugly?
Chelsea’s Winter Wishlist
Nevertheless, Maurizio Sarri will no doubt be impressed by his teams start in all competitions. They cruised through the Europa League group stages, they sit pretty in the league, have a potential semi-final of the Carabao cup and are awaiting an FA Cup draw. They are on for a possible quadruple. This time last season, Manchester City were in a similar position and people were indeed beginning to believe it was a possibility. Not so for Chelsea this season. Unlike City last year, Chelsea aren’t the only team in this position. City still have four trophies up for grabs and Liverpool have three. Spurs and Arsenal are looking threatening themselves. Last season, City set a blistering pace that nobody could keep up with. This year, there are three unbeaten teams at the top after 12 games for the first time in a top-flight season.
Realistic But Ambitious
Chelsea do need some reinforcement, that is for sure. Sarri has maybe 15 or 16 players he can truly rely on. To win the league, he needs 20+. However, what we think now may still be hugely affected by the coming months.
Fans should be realistic in their expectations for any transfer window, especially a January one. Usually used by lower teams trying to escape a relegation dogfight, the window often fails to deliver up to the hype. However, standards have risen. To win trophies and set the bar at the top of English football, clubs must show ambition. Manchester City did not necessarily need to go after Riyad Mahrez in January, nor did they need to purchase Aymeric Laporte. It was a statement. ‘We’re top of the league and it’s going to stay that way’. Chelsea may not be top at Christmas. However, if they want to be challenging, it is this show of power that will get them there.
A Blunt Attack
Before the season started, way back before the World Cup, there were doubts over their strikeforce. Olivier Giroud is a better sub than starter as he can’t see out a full 90 minutes and, despite having a good relationship with Eden Hazard, isn’t good enough to win a title. Alvaro Morata, despite a recent improvement, put in one of his worst games against Everton on Sunday. He looked lazy and lacking in any confidence that someone who has been shown trust by a manager should possess. His poor attitude and willingness to go to ground are a tragedy for a club that have seen warriors in Diego Costa and Didier Drogba wear the blue badge on their chest with pride in more recent times.
Is Chelsea’s biggest signing of the window going to be the new contract of Eden Hazard? This would get just as much attention and applause as any other deal. Keeping the Belgian past this season is imperative for next season’s success, so singing him on another big money contract would be huge.
If Hazard is to stay, then would Sarri move him into Chelsea’s striker role? Something he did at Napoli was tp transform Dries Mertens into one of Europe’s leading marksmen, deploying him as a false nine with a free role. The characteristics seem to fit for Hazard to succeed in this position but, as of yet, he hasn’t been used there because Chelsea rely on a big striker for aerial presence. Or, is it because Sarri is required to give senior players game time to fully embed himself into the club? Willian is, yet again, failing to produce in front of goal, giving very mediocre performances most weeks. Pedro has been in and out of the team due to injury, however, he has shown glimpses of his class. Chelsea are also yet to lose when the Spaniard has been on the score sheet.
Whatever the reason for this, Chelsea need a leading forward who will get 20 goals a season. They also need something to come in January. Unless Sarri is saving Hazard for next year, they will certainly require one, if not two, high-profile attackers in the next two transfer windows. An overhaul of the front line is even more evident when you consider that the youngest of their current selection is 25.
Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi headlines a surge of sought-after players in Serie A. Along with centre midfielders Sergej Milikovic-Savic of Lazio and Piotr Zielinski from Napoli, and striker Andrea Belotti of Torino, the Italian top league is drawing Europe’s biggest clubs. Wallets at the ready.
Chelsea have shown interest in all four of these players with no concrete offers. However, they wouldn’t come cheap. Torino requested £75 million for the Italian while Milinkovic-Savic has been linked to both Manchester clubs and allegedly has a €50 million release clause. However, this would significantly rise with the clubs snapping to pick him up. Meanwhile, Zielinski and Icardi would cost upwards of £50 million each themselves.
Along with these players, Chelsea have been linked with ex-Liverpool winger Suso. He is seen as a potential replacement for Willian or Pedro in the coming years. Suso himself would be at least £40 million. It is unlikely Chelsea would go for all of these players and not get any of them, however, there is no chance they could afford all of them.
Icardi Do It All On My Own
Rumours have been flying around regarding the availability of Mauro Icardi. The Argentine is held high as one of Europe’s elite; the complete forward. He brings excellent movement, pace, strength and good interplay. He would also be another player that has played in Italy, along with Jorginho, Marcos Alonso, Davide Zappacosta, Morata and Antonio Rudiger now in the Chelsea squad.
Icardi is attracting attention from all over. Real Madrid need a replacement for the ageing and struggling Karim Benzema. Barcelona want a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez and Bayern Munich likewise for Lewandowski. Whether or not there is any truth in the rumours, Icardi is a wanted man.
When being realistic, Chelsea can splash out on one world class striker; if they offload one of or both Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata, they might be able to replace both. This is, though, a process that is not going to happen overnight and almost certainly not during a mid-season transfer window. Chelsea are desperate but that type of instability mid-season could be catastrophic.
Icardi, like any other player, cannot hold down a position all season long. The need for rotation is huge and not even Icardi can do it all on his own. Chelsea would need to have at least two good strikers heading into the second half of the season. They might even keep their current two and invest. There are a range of possibilities but it would be strange if Chelsea didn’t lodge an enquiry for Icardi during the winter considering their struggles.
The Blues’ midfield is-jam packed with talent. Man for man, it could be argued as being up there with the best in the world. However, the favourite three has come under some considerable change recently. Ross Barkley’s breakthrough has seen him become the favoured attacking option in the three as Mateo Kovacic continues to struggle in the final third.
A large part of Chelsea’s business may depend on who Sarri wants going into next season. He cannot take all of his current midfield options as Ruben Loftus-Cheek would likely leave in search of consistent first team football. Danny Drinkwater is not playing and can be seen as holding back the chances of Loftus-Cheek and going forward, Mason Mout. It is likely he will leave in January.
But this still leaves Chelsea with six players for three positions, unless there is a huge overload in players in January and next summer then Chelsea will not need another centre midfielder. This also begs the question about signing Kovacic on a permanent deal at the end of the season. That will be judged on his performances and how he fits into the system come next term.
Also being in question is the happiness of N’Golo Kante. Is he being utilised in his ‘new role’ further forward? Maybe not, but Kante will always give energy and a boost to any midfield no matter where he plays. Unless Paris Saint-Germain came in with a monumental offer, Kante will not be leaving in January either and it would still be a huge shock if he was to exit Stamford Bridge in the summer. However, Spaniard Cesc Fabregas is more likely to depart in summer, with AC Milan interested. There could even be a swap deal, bringing target Suso to London in return.
Chelsea have had a fairly settled back four so far this season but the effectiveness of this group remains a doubt. The surprise uncertainty around Cesar Azpilicueta’s position has seen fans doubting his ability to play as a right-back in a defensive four. Before Conte moved Chelsea’s captain to the left side of a three, he was the best left and right back in the Premier League. He hasn’t lost this but he does seem less sure when defending one-on-one. Only time will tell how he fully adapts into Sarri’s system but his consistency so far for the Blues is incredible and he should be trusted to continue in this position.
The centre-backs have been their main cause for concern. David Luiz looks more assured but is not a long term fixture in Sarri’s plans. While Luiz offers more experience than anyone else and a range of passing that wouldn’t be out of place in midfield, his sporadic defending does get nerves jangling whenever he is at the heart of the defence.
The biggest shock has been the lack of game time Denmark international Andreas Christensen has had. Chelsea’s best defender last year has found himself making no appearances in the league. This is a surprise, as he was so assured in a back five last season and looked to show the talent that was so evident since he joined as a teenager. Although this could be Sarri going with experience, Christensen is only 22-years-old and has many seasons ahead of him. He does not need replacing in this Chelsea team but, if he fails to impress Sarri, they might have to look elsewhere for a new centre-half.
With such a high work load on these starting defenders, it has become apparent that back-ups Davide Zappacosta, Emerson Palmieri and Gary Cahill are nowhere near starting or even threatening. Cahill has voiced this and has been subject to his manager’s press conference talk as well. Sarri confirmed last year’s captain could leave in January. If this is the case, Chelsea will only have one substitute centre-back. This could lead to Ethan Ampadu playing more when he becomes fit. Whether he will be trusted in the first-team is yet to be seen. If not, Chelsea will need a replacement for Cahill. These players don’t come around very often and whoever it might be would also have to be aware that starting opportunities are going to be limited.
A Turn To Youth
Davide Zappacosta is simply not fit to play Premier League football and could be waved goodbye come the new year. Chelsea would be left with just one right-back, so would need a replacement as Victor Moses hasn’t been trusted in this team on the wing, meaning it is unlikely he would be tried at right back. One option to replace Zappacosta is loanee Jay Da Silva, who is playing his second year of league football, now in the Championship with Bristol City. Da Silva impressed last season with Charlton and has made the step up to the Championship. Given the opportunity, even mid-season, Da Silva has the potential to do a very good job covering for Azpilicueta.
Emerson Palmieri is still an unknown entity at Chelsea, having been injury-blighted for so long since last year. So far in cup competitions, he has been a good replacement but not knocking on Sarri’s door for a start. While there is no worry about him not being a suitable replacement, Chelsea may look for a more solid back-up in coming seasons.
Chelsea could also consider eighteen year old Reece James, who is performing brilliantly for Wigan in the Championship. He is very similar to Jay Da Silva and, while it would be surprising if he did make a return in January, he could be a viable option moving forward.
Chelsea’s Winter Wishlist
There are a lot of ifs and buts in Chelsea’s current squad but they do have quality throughout. The factors that will decide how much they spend in winter is likely to be their league position, the availability of players and the plans for the summer. Also, Roman Abramovich’s complex political situation means his vested interest must be accounted for before he spends millions on the club.
If Chelsea believe they can win the league this season then a world-class striker that can get them fifteen goals between January and June is a must need. There is no option to that. Meanwhile, there are options for the remainder of the squad with no signings as necessary as a clinical front man.
Moving forward, there are dozens of possible plans and set-ups for Maurizio Sarri. But the support he gets from the Chelsea board will play a big part in how successful these moves are. As a coach and not a manager, Sarri will look to improve his current batch and not become involved in transfer scandals. Even Sarri, though, will see the importance in investing heavily in the market to develop the base of his squad.