Back in the summer, Chelsea fans were basking under the feeling of being the Champions of Europe. To add to their happiness, Roman Abramovich had spent lavishly upon some of the top young talents the world had on offer. A rather utilitarian looking Chelsea attacking unit had been transformed to provide flair, panache and imagination. It seemed as though the club would for the first time, since the 2006-07 season, get things right with regards to squad quality and depth. Chelsea Football Club though, have a habit of triggering the self-destruct button when things are going smooth. In this particular instance, the aftereffects have been felt a little late but not unexpectedly. Those who follow the club on a day to day basis saw the winter slump coming even when Chelsea raced ahead to the top of the table, early this season.
The trigger was the exits of midfielders Michael Essien and Raul Meireles to Real Madrid and Fenerbahce respectively. Micheal Essien left for Real Madrid on deadline day. While there was a bit of surprise at the sudden exit, the real shocker came when Raul Meireles, having just delivered a masterful performance in Di Matteo’s pivot against Newcastle on the 25th of August, left for Fenerbahce on the 3rd of September. A decision from the club that left the Londoners reduced to just four options in central midfield – Frank Lampard, Oriol Romeu, Ramires and John Obi Mikel. New signing Oscar was and remains an option for the position even today, but he’s yet to adjust to the rigors of the Premier League and remains a back-up in central midfield at best. Also, he is best utilized at the No.10 position.
To compound their problems, Chelsea decided to put all their eggs in one basket as far as the striker position was concerned. Open the basket and all they’re likely to find in it are eggs now. Fernando Torres is currently undergoing a revival of sorts under Rafael Benitez, but even the decent looking statistics cannot cover for a player who looks like a pale ghost of his old self at Liverpool. He has been overplayed this season because of the hierarchy’s willingness to get the best out of him as well as a profound lack of trust in the now departed, Daniel Sturridge.
As the season progressed, the splendid ‘Mazacar’ trio started gasping for breath at the end of games, Chelsea’s hopes of progressing into the knockout rounds of the Champions League lay shattered and Roberto Di Matteo paid the price for what may or may not have been his fault after all. Rafael Benitez was appointed ‘interim’ manager and he immediately recognized that a number of players were running on tired legs.Thereafter, he set about rotating the squad.
Chelsea have as usual been linked to a host of names during the window including that of Atletico Madrid striker Falcao and Real Madrid’s Higuain. But after Daniel Sturridge’s departure to Liverpool, Chelsea have moved quickly in the window to capture former Newcastle hit-man Demba Ba after they activated his £7.5m release clause. Demba Ba has already opened his account as he scored a brace against Southampton for the Blues in the FA Cup. It makes sense for Chelsea to have captured Ba’s signature as he’s cheap(when you consider they have sold Sturridge for £12m), proven in the Premier League and is reportedly on a four year contract which pays him £80,000 a week. All that aside, Ba is also a striker who will compete for a place in the squad and that will keep Fernando Torres on his toes.
Chelsea do have quality in the wide forward positions but with Marko Marin struggling to prove his worth, the club is left with just Eden Hazard and Victor Moses as legitimate options in wider positions, as Rafael Benitez seems to prefer playing Juan Mata down the centre with Oscar predominantly featuring from the bench. Marko Marin has had a disappointing spell at the club so far with some reports linking him with a loan move to Bayer Leverkusen. He has also spent three months of the season on the treatment table with Chelsea opting to ease him back into action after proper treatment and conditioning with a view towards preventing recurring injuries in the long term.
All of the above means that the club has been strongly linked to another Brazilian name, Taison, a 24 year old Metalist Kharkiv player who can play across the front three. Reports suggest that Chelsea have agreed a fee with the club and have also sealed personal terms. However, the matter seems to have gotten complicated with Manchester City having entered the fray late in the day with an offer that puts the selling club at an advantageous position. Taison hasn’t been capped at senior level for the Brazilian national team yet, which complicates it further. With Metalist Kharkiv now demanding a higher fee of £11m reportedly, it remains to be seen if Chelsea can agree, but considering the player’s willingness to move to London, it looks like Chelsea will eventually complete the signing.
There is a strong feeling that marquee name forwards like Falcao, Cavani or Higuain will be put off until the summer as it is easier to convince the selling clubs when there is more time for planning. Andre Schurrle continues to be linked with the club this window, but the chances of a transfer seem bleak for now. Also, the club has managed with just Fernando Torres so far and can do so for another five months with Demba Ba as part of the equation.
When the manager has to resort to playing the positionally erratic David Luiz in the ever crucial pivot midfield, you know that Chelsea have got a problem. This might be much to the chagrin of those advocating the curly haired defender’s move up the pitch, but Luiz might be better playing centre back and ironing out his indiscipline with lesser attacking responsibility, rather than trying to find discipline in midfield whilst trying to initiate attacks. The chances of him turning into a world class defender seem much higher than him turning into a world class defensive midfielder at the moment. Digressions apart, Chelsea have been forced into the predicament after John Obi Mikel was suspended for three games and the club lost Oriol Romeu to a ligament injury for six months.
That leaves Rafael Benitez with just two legitimate options in midfield – Frank Lampard and Ramires, with Oscar serving as the back up option, as Benitez clearly doesn’t seem to trust the young Brazilian in the pivot just yet. That Luiz is trusted ahead of Oscar in the midfield speaks volumes. What’s worse, John Obi Mikel has left to report for Nigeria as they prepare for the upcoming African Cup of Nations (so has Victor Moses) and won’t be returning until February. Therefore, it is imperative that Chelsea secure a central midfielder or seriously risk a burnout yet again.
Marouane Fellaini(Everton), Benat Etxebarria(Real Betis) and Paulinho(Corinthians) have been linked to the blues most persistently. Recent reports suggest that Fellaini has a £22m release clause in his contract which Chelsea might look to trigger. All three midfielders would provide the club with more depth and quality, but are they obtainable this window? Not unless Chelsea stump up a substantial sum of money for one of them.
The safest of the three appears to be Marouane Fellaini who seems to be making a case for Everton to be in the top four this season with his exploits and he’s a versatile option as he can play upfront as well where he uses his considerable height and size to good advantage. Paulinho of Corinthians is a tough tackling box to box midfielder who is decent on the ball and is also useful when it comes to carrying the ball upfield, with powerful lung bursting runs ala Ramires.
Benat on the other hand might just be the player who can provide Chelsea with something different as he is used to orchestrating play from deep and setting the tempo. Benitez’ inclination to play David Luiz in midfield suggests that the manager seems to be looking for someone to spray passes from a deeper position and it will be interesting to see if Benitez will successfully provide the Premier League with another wonderful deep lying playmaker after Xabi Alonso. Should Chelsea pursue this option however, they will need to be mindful of the price they pay for the player as it is always a risk when buying players from a different culture.
There isn’t much of a need for the Stamford Bridge club to look into signing defenders as they are fairly well covered in all defensive positions with a good mix of youth, as well as experience. Micah Richards was bizarrely linked a few days back, although it doesn’t look as if anything will come out of it. However, Chelsea will be disappointed should they not be able to add a quality central midfield signing this winter given that Frank Lampard’s time at the club also appears to be drawing to a close now.