Any moves Chelsea make during this January transfer window are unlikely to trump the one that saw Jose Mourinho make his return to Stamford Bridge. But with Chelsea's striker woes as evident as ever, the club have been relentlessly linked with a swathe of names who could feasibly be the missing piece of the Blues' puzzle.
But with concerns over retaining some of their own stars, January promises to be a compelling month for the west Londoners. The club have shown in the past they have no qualms in making significant moves in the winter window, can we expect more of the same this year? To find out IBTimes UK spoke to David Chidgey, producer of Chelsea Fan Cast, the club's weekly podcast.
David takes us through the challenges Chelsea face over the coming weeks and discusses what decisions must be made to ensure the club are in contention for the Premier League title come May.
What areas of the side are in need of the most strengthening?
David: There are people yet to be discovered in the Amazon rainforest who know that the major area in need of strengthening at Chelsea is up front. The shambles that has left us with the most expensive misfiring striker in the club's history and two poor backups is something that, come the end of the season, the club may well regret. It is clear that Jose Mourinho feels this is an area we need to strengthen as he reminds the press about this every week. The fact that it took well over a year for a Chelsea striker to score an away goal in the Premier League speaks volumes and is a matter of frustration for the supporters and manager alike. The fact is that we all know that if we had at least one world class striker (two would be nice!) then this side, well marshalled by the best manager in the business, would probably walk the Premier League and be contenders in the Champions' League too.
However, Chelsea are in transition with the old guard getting older, and experiencing teething trouble in trying to move away from the legacy of buying players for a manager who never came (Guardiola) and changing to a style under a manager who we should never have let go. Other than strikers who can score goals, we need more suitable players to play in defensive midfield and we also have a lack of genuine width. It is testament to Mourinho's immense skill that Chelsea is still in contention without these key assets and during a period of transition.
What players would you like to see brought in to fill those roles?
David: A club like Chelsea with pretensions to be a permanent fixture in Europe's elite simply has to have at least one world class striker. They are not easy to acquire and do not come cheap. Many Chelsea supporters would like to see a striker of the caliber of Lewandowski, Falcao, Costa, Cavani or Aguero to grace Stamford Bridge in the way that Didier Drogba, our last world class striker did. Luis Suarez is probably the most in-form striker in the world and has Premier League experience but with his behavioural issues and the Liverpool connection, most of us would rather stick a needle in our eye than see Suarez play in the blue of Chelsea. The reality is that none of those mentioned are likely to be available in this transfer window, and if they are they will be vastly overpriced. I fear that the search for a world class striker capable of banging in 20+ goals in a season may continue for a while yet.
Other players on the lips of Chelsea supporters include Juventus midfielders Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba or perhaps more realistically Benfica's Nemanja Matic who ironically Chelsea let go as recently as 2011. The type of player that we definitely don't want is another attacking midfielder – we have enough of those!
How optimistic are you of a successful window?
David: To be honest, not massively optimistic. The January transfer window seldom sees the arrival of players who will fundamentally change the dynamic of the team and season, plus anyone of genuine class will no doubt be cup tied out of the Champions' League, although they would certainly help in our quest for domestic honours. There are plenty of other issues that may affect the clubs attitude to this transfer window.
Do the club want to gamble another £50 million on a striker after failing with Torres? Furthermore, having made a £50 million loss, how would splashing the cash this time round affect the club's position regarding the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules? How much power will Mourinho be able to wield in the transfer market given Abramovich's influence and the role of Michael Emenalo whose job it has been to identify players to be brought in often several years before they arrive. Chelsea also have a wealth of young players (many playing on loan such as Courtois; Lukaku and Piazon) who will be on the verge of breaking through in the next year or two – how will this affect the club's forays in to the transfer market given their declared long term strategy to recruit from the youth going forward? Clearly there are more questions than answers, but personally I just don't see anything dramatic happening on the transfer front for Chelsea in this window, but then again, nothing at this club surprises me!
Any dead wood? Do the club need to offload anyone who isn't pulling his weight?
David: The obvious dead wood, one could argue, would be Demba Ba, closely followed by Samuel Eto'o. But with just the three strikers, albeit underperforming, none of them will leave the club in January unless a replacement is found. Interestingly, the squad has less dead wood than last season when Yossi Benayoun or the hapless Marko Marin would frequently be summoned from the substitute's bench. The squad has more depth and is better equipped for the domestic and European campaigns, in spite of the lack of fire power up front.
One issue is the disappointing Kevin De Bruyne who has failed to impress in his first 'real' season at the club. He, his agent and national team manager appear to be agitating for a permanent move away from the club – most probably to Germany. There are also rumours that his attitude may not be all that it should be, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the club let him go, but preferably, as Mourinho himself suggested, for a large transfer fee.
How important is the January transfer window to the club's ambitions for this season?
David: It is tempting to believe that acquiring a world class striker in this transfer window would be the cure to all of Chelsea's ills and would see the club sweep all before them as a result. The fact is that in all likelihood, it will be impossible to sign the right kind of striker at the right kind of price. Will this affect our ambitions for the season? Well, in reality probably not. Mourinho has publicly stated that the club is in transition this year and that he will win the Premier League next season! Clever mind games in terms of lowering expectations of both the owner and supporters no doubt. But, it is also a pragmatic view.
I am fairly certain that Chelsea will finish in the all-important top four this season, but it wouldn't surprise me if we finished second or maybe even secure the title. And this will be down to the supreme management of Jose Mourinho rather than the buying or selling of any players in January. If we do then it will go down as one of Mourinho's greatest achievements when you consider the lack of goals from our front three and the fact that for the last two seasons we have been 14 and 25 points respectively behind the eventual winners.
Do you believe the manager will be backed in his hopes (if any) of adding to the squad?
David: Almost unnoticed by many, this is probably the key issue in terms of the longevity of Jose Mourinho's second tenure as Chelsea manager and the long term success of the club. His first tenure came to a premature end due to the influence wielded by a 'Director of Football' and Abramovich's supposed interference in team affairs and the buying of players not wanted by Jose. Most supporters will be right behind Jose in terms of his freedom to build the squad as he sees fit, and buying and selling players to fit with the style of play he wants to adopt. It is early days, but it appears that both sides appear to be taking a pragmatic and long term view, and the fact that a former Mourinho player – Eto'o – was a last minute purchase as a backup in the summer, and the club's pursuit of a Mourinho favourite in Rooney would seem to indicate that he is being given the nod in terms of squad re-building and transfers.
It is hoped that the club, and the manager, are learning in terms of avoiding over paying for players in the transfer market, and perhaps getting best value for those that they both buy and sell. The club takes the UEFA FFP rules very seriously so whatever the power struggle between the owner, technical director and manager may or may not be, any purchases will probably be determined by the need to balance the books and therefore players may need to be sold to finance any future purchases.
Are there any other issues away from the transfer window the club need to address in the New Year?
David: The burning issue for most Chelsea supporters so far this season is the situation with Juan Mata. Rumours and mischief making in the media would have it that there has been a fall out between player and manager, and that Mata will look to leave the club in order to safeguard his place in the Spanish national team. It seems inconceivable to most supporters that a player with the consummate skills of Mata, and a player who picked up the Club's 'Player of the Season' award for the last two years cannot be accommodated in the first team.
But, we are also aware that with Jose, the team and its ability to get results comes first, and no player is bigger than the team. Either way it is hoped that whilst the team strives to achieve a different and more robust style of play, Mata can get his head down and adapt his game to the needs of the manager and the team. It would be a great sadness to lose the talent of Juan Mata, but more pertinently he is a highly intelligent and charming man who has thrown himself in to the culture of the club and his adopted city – the antithesis to the WAG, Jag and Rolex obsessed modern footballer. For what it is worth both Jose and Mata are winners and very intelligent men and I am sure that the situation will be resolved in a satisfactory way for the club, player and supporters.