It seems weird really that Chelsea now look somewhat unlikely to spend money in the upcoming transfer window when since Roman Abramovich took over the club, they seem to have done little else. But Carlo Ancelotti has repeatedly asserted that he is happy with his squad and won’t be dipping into the transfer market come January, despite repeated rumours of interest in everyone from Rodwell to Aguero.
And while I admire Ancelotti’s faith in his current squad and certainly agree that the club will benefit from a degree of stability in terms of playing staff, I think that it is crucial for Chelsea’s short and long-term prospects that Ancelotti strengthens his squad in the new year. This belief is inspired by several factors, some of them obvious and some of them arguably less so after their start to the season but I think that if Chelsea are to maintain their assault on the summit of English football, they must spend in January.
The most obvious factor in Chelsea’s need to spend concerns their long-term stability and ability to maintain a squad with the quality necessary to continue to challenge at the top of the Premier League, which could take a huge hit if their appeal against their transfer ban – imposed after the apparently illegal signing of Gael Kakuta – fails. They will then be unable to spend money in the subsequent three or four transfer windows and will have to stick with the squad they’ve got – which could be a huge problem.
It’s not that they’ve got a bad squad, quite the reverse. Looking down a team sheet at names like Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba you can’t help but appreciate the absolute quality that they can call on. Notably though, all of those players (as well as many more, like Deco, Belletti etc.) are already in their thirties and will not be able to play on at the top-level forever. If they don’t bring in some younger faces now and are then prevented from refreshing the squad for a few years, Stamford Bridge could start to resemble an OAP’s playground.
Of course, these players are not going to become terrible overnight and many of them will doubtless continue to turn out for Chelsea well into their thirties – look at Ryan Giggs for United for example, and there was Maldini at AC Milan too. These type of players come around rarely though, and even if they did all turn into effervescent evergreen players, the Premier League is such a high tempo environment that every team needs some younger players in their line up to bring some zest and energy to the side.
If we wish to look on the bright side of course, we could suggest that Chelsea will may well have their transfer ban overturned (I have no idea which way it’ll go to be honest), and so they could be OK in that regard. However, even if their long-term spending power is secure, I still feel that in the short-term, Chelsea need some reinforcements in January. Most immediately, this is down to the African Cup of Nations which will be played out in January and will starve them of some key first team players.
Let’s face it, Chelsea’s season thus far has been pretty heavily reliant on one man in particular: Didier Drogba. He’s scored a shitload of goals already this season and looks as deadly as I’ve ever seen him. Take away his goals and Chelsea are a different – and much less dangerous – prospect. Then there’s Michael Essien, without whom Chelsea are statistically about 15% less likely to win games. Of course, Jon Obi Mikel is an able deputy in his holding role, but oh no, he’ll be on international duty too.
Many people have attempted to dismiss suggestions that clubs will suffer from the loss of these players by arguing that they’ll likely only miss between three and four Premier League fixtures because it’s a relatively short tournament. That may be so, however, if Chelsea suffer badly from missing the likes of Drogba, Essien and Mikel for even one or two games then that could have a huge effect on their season. This season is shaping up to be one of the closest in recent memory and consistency will be key – even a stumble in one or two games could be the difference between a first and second place.
Even if we were to assume that Chelsea will manage without their African players though, I still maintain that they will need to strengthen in January, and here’s where we can turn to their recent dip in form. While they started the season on fire, their recent slip ups against Man City and Everton are, I believe, evidence of the fact that though their squad is very good, it may not be quite strong enough to win them the league – despite the similar failings of their ‘big four’ rivals.
Against my Everton side, Chelsea put out what was very near to being a full strength team (arguably only Essien was missing) and despite the fact that Everton were playing with half a team due to their injuries, they couldn’t overcome them. Particularly worrying was their defensive frailty, with their first choice pairing of Terry and Carvalho consistently exposed at set pieces and incredibly disorganised. In previous seasons they’ve been nigh on impenetrable, but on Saturday they looked amateurish on occasion.
I wonder if they couldn’t do with some fresh impetus in the centre of defence. Terry and Carvalho have for so long been the cornerstone of Chelsea’s side that they may well have become a little complacent in there. Alex and Ivanovic are both able deputies but when fit, Terry and Carvalho are all but guaranteed a starting place. That’s all very well, they’re great players, but even great players can settle into a comfort zone and become complacent even without realising it.
I also wonder if the likes of Carvalho and Ballack are starting to reach the end of their top class careers, at least in the Premier League. While technically excellent, there’s no denying that the Premiership is an incredibly demanding league, it’s fast paced and physical in a way that eclipses almost every other league in the world. And when you consider that these are players that have been playing football at a high level since their early teens, their bodies will certainly be starting to show the strain.
Certainly with consistent application and commitment in training and a real sense of responsibility in looking after themselves physically they should be able to emulate the likes of Giggs and Maldini in playing well into their thirties but as I said, it would be easy for them to become complacent. But a top class, younger centre-half could be just the injection of pressure that they need to pick up their performances, a player who can emerge as a genuine contender for a first team place.
Ultimately then, I think that Ancelotti would be strongly advised to look for reinforcements in the January transfer window. In the long-term Chelsea may well suffer if a transfer ban is imposed on them, and in the short-term the African Cup of Nations may give him cause for concern. Even more immediately though, I think that their recent dip in form has certainly exposed weaknesses in their squad that could cost them in the title race, and Ancelotti may well be forced to reconsider his reluctance to add to his squad.
One thing that is incredibly important though, is that he does not upset the spirit and togetherness of the Chelsea squad, something that has been strongly evident so far this season. I still feel that Manchester City’s major problem is a lack of cohesion amongst their striker-filled squad, and there would be no point in Ancelotti bringing in extra strength in depth it was to upset the current crop of players.
However, I really think that Chelsea do need an added bit of quality in certain areas. Much focus will remain on the Gael Kakuta affair and they may be tempted to plan for the future with that in mind, but I think that it is just as important to shake things up a bit in the short-term too. For the past few years Chelsea have needed little encouragement to do just that, but ironically they’ve now found a manager who clearly appreciates a settled environment in which to work his magic at a point when the squad is in genuine need of a bit of fresh blood.
Have your say:
Do you think that Chelsea need to add to their squad? Or is Ancelotti rightly reluctant to splash the cash? Will they be hit with a ban? Will they survive the African Cup of Nations? Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you think…