A lot has been discussed about the effect that the African Cup of Nations will have on Chelsea title charge and opinions have been relatively mixed. There is no doubt that the absence of key figures such as Didier Drogba and Michael Essien is going to affect the Blues, however many believe the west London club to have the strength in depth to cope without the Africans. One of these believers is Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, who has continuously denied claims that he is to make any signings in the January window. Ancelotti has begun to snap at the question of whether he will shop in January and appears adamant that his current squad are strong enough to continue their title challenge.
It is the Chelsea attack that is likely to feel the strain the most as the prolific Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou leave to represent the Ivory Coast, leaving the Blues with just Nicholas Anelka as a first choice striker. Ancelotti is however, insistent that his young guns have what it takes to fill the void:
“We will still have 11 against Fulham, if Didier is not here, we can put in other players. Sturridge has an opportunity to show his qualities. He played against West Ham very well in that second half and, maybe, against Birmingham he can play from the beginning. “I have a lot of confidence in my strikers. Not only Drogba, not only Kalou, not only Anelka. Also Sturridge and Borini.”
Ancelotti’s faith in his youngsters is no doubt a risky move from the experienced Italian. Rumours of the signing of Sergio Aguero refuse to go away and I believe that another top quality striker is needed at Stamford Bridge, if only for the January and February period. Anelka finds himself sidelined for both the games against Birmingham and Fulham and Chelsea could find themselves left with just the youngsters. It is a crucial stage in the season and although I am sure they will give their all, the fact of the matter is both are yet to score for Chelsea’s first team and Borini hugely lacks Premier League experience. Rivals Manchester United are barely affected by the competition and therefore Ancelotti’s men cannot afford to hand the initiative to Alex Ferguson’s side having worked hard to gain a 4 point lead over Christmas.
Having said this, Sturridge and Borini are both likely to be licking their lips at the prospect of an extended run in the first team. Sturridge made a half time appearance at Upton Park last weekend and impressed, having won Chelsea the penalty that Lampard was forced to convert three times. The youngster has failed to really have an impact since his summer signing from Eastlands and is considered a controversial figure by many football fans. He will look to use this moment to seize his opportunity to once again show his potential. On the other hand, little is known about Fabio Borini, especially outside of Stamford Bridge. The young Italian will also be looking to impress and came agonizingly close to opening his Premier League account a week ago against Portsmouth. Borini rounded the Portsmouth keeper Asmir Begovic before slotting the ball marginally wide from a tight angle. I can’t help that think that if that had gone in, it would have done wonders for Borini’s confidence and would have left him in better stead to face his run in the first team.
The next few weeks are likely to tell us a few things. We will find out just how detrimental the absence of the African’s is to Chelsea’s title challenge, and whether or not the youngsters (and Nicholas Anelka for that matter) have the ability to step up to the plate. We will also discover the effects of Ancelotti’s decision to stay out of the January market, if he sticks good to his word, and whether it proves to be a managerial masterstroke, or a grave error.