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Can January Changes Restore Title Challenge at Chelsea?

Whatever the Chelsea fans think of Michy Batshuayi, it’s clear manager Antonio Conte doesn’t trust him enough to deputise for Alvaro Mo...


Whatever the Chelsea fans think of Michy Batshuayi, it’s clear manager Antonio Conte doesn’t trust him enough to deputise for Alvaro Morata. If Morata faces another spell on the sidelines, what will happen? Will Conte swallow his pride and try Batshuayi again? Or will we see another variation of the strikerless system that hasn’t really worked for the Blues so far?

The obvious solution is to buy in January, and there’s a good chance Chelsea will do that. But is a striker the only position the club needs to consider strengthening?

Crucial Period

After eight games, the Blues had dropped out as far as 20/1 in the title betting. That puts them behind Spurs and to be honest, the start to the campaign suggests looking for bonus betting options rather than spending our own money. So what needs to happen to get that challenge back on track?

December will be telling. A busy Christmas schedule is often a good indicator of whether a given squad has depth or lacks it. Chelsea will almost certainly still be trailing at least one side in the table towards the end of the calendar year, so every point will be vital. Consequently, Conte won’t be keen on the idea of resting key men, especially Morata given the Batshuayi situation.

Had Diego Costa made amends with Conte after the pair fell out last season, we wouldn’t be talking about a lack of depth. Having a player of Costa’s ability to step in for Morata would be ideal right now. Alternatively, perhaps the duo could have played together as a partnership. Then again, Chelsea might have turned down the chance to sign Morata had Costa been more committed. We’ll never really know.

Missed out

What we do know is the current state of the squad isn’t up to scratch, at least in the eyes of Conte. Fernando Llorente, a player Chelsea missed out on in the summer, made only his second start for Tottenham against Real Madrid in the Champions League and showed exactly why he had been a long-term target for the Blues. Spurs sat back and often had to go long, and Llorente’s presence was key in retaining position whenever that happened.

Llorente would have brought a degree of experience to Chelsea’s attack that Batshuayi simply can’t provide. However, the question has to be asked: would Llorente have been good enough to deputise for Morata as a lone striker? I’m not so sure. Given the funds Chelsea have at their disposal - at least when compared to Tottenham - the club should prioritise the recruitment of a second top quality forward, à la Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus at Manchester City.

Options

Imagine the strengths Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi would bring to the current squad. Chelsea have been linked with a move for the Argentine for some time, but reports suggest Inter want to increase his release clause to fend off January interest from English clubs. Icardi is just 24, the same age as Batshuayi, but he has far more experience leading the line for a prestige European club. If the rumours are true, you can see why Conte wants him.

But let’s be honest, nobody is quite sure what Conte wants. There have murmurings about the Italian’s future since the summer, and certain corners of the media are tipping him to be out before the start of next season. 

As a result, his priorities are difficult to gauge. Many Chelsea supporters were frustrated to see Antonio Rudiger left out of the starting line-up to face Roma in the Champions League. Some believe Gary Cahill should have been dropped, others think Rudiger should be playing ahead of Andreas Christensen. Conte has always been a stubborn decision maker, but there would have been far fewer conflicts of interest had N’Golo Kante been fit to play in midfield; his absence meant a number of players had to be moved around. 


With that in mind, do Chelsea need to recruit a player who can slot into the defence or midfield seamlessly? Someone like Tottenham’s Eric Dier, or Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich. Those are unrealistic options, but a player of that ilk could be a solid investment. January will certainly be an interesting month at Stamford Bridge.

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