Sitting pretty atop of the Premier League table, Chelsea are probably not looking to make a splash this January. Their lead has been extended to seven points after last weekend’s matches and Antonio Conte’s side are far and away the title favourites. Even the loss of their talismanic striker, Diego Costa, could not stop them from rolling Leicester over at the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening.
When things are so rosy, it is easy to focus on the positives. Positive thinking is a great thing, in life and in sport, but Chelsea’s decision makers must be cynical. Rather than honing in on the brilliance of this team currently, they should consider their potential downfalls. Those downfalls could yet see Chelsea slip into the depths of a heated battle for Champions League qualification.
On top of that, they have lost Oscar this month. Despite the Brazilian hardly playing this season, he was a talented, versatile option who at the very least provided depth. Selling him was a no-brainer with the riches that were offered, but the Blues should not wait until summer to reinvest that money.
Whatever happens with Costa, Chelsea could be left regretting an inactive January transfer window come May. Their squad is not perfect, it has clear weaknesses and, although they are performing wonderfully of late, a second half collapse is not beyond the realms of possibility. Conte will not have a better chance to win a Premier League title than he has this season, however long he remains in the league. They must seize this opportunity and January spending, even with the inflated prices, will further reduce the risk of a choking start to 2017.
The wing-back areas are so key to Chelsea’s success. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have both turned in some wonderful performances thus far, but Conte is approaching a dilemma. He not only lacks backup options in the positions, but Alonso and Moses have also had several displays that leave their position in the team under threat.
In central midfield, too, Chelsea are an injury away from a shortage of options. N’Golo Kante remains the lynchpin and no one really knows how a Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas pairing would work long-term in this system. Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are able to fill in if required, although the losses of John Obi Mikel and Oscar leave Conte short of experience. It is unlikely to be a major issue, but an addition to the midfield options would not exactly be superfluous.
In the attacking third, too, Chelsea could easily become stretched. Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Willian are the current options for the roles and it is set to remain that way unless Diego Costa returns to action. With Batshuayi clearly out of favour with Conte, the front three are short on backup options.
Chelsea are not in desperate need of signings in any position, but this January window could be definitive for the club. The situation with Costa looms over any transfer business the club may do, yet injuries could leave Conte with a squad not only short-staffed, but imbalanced. A glut of injuries will damage any squad significantly, that’s for sure. Chelsea have the capital to add to their squad this window and it could yet be the difference between the title and a nervy battle for a top four finish.
The lack of European football should mean that injuries and fatigue are limited, fortunately enough for Conte. Able to field his strongest team week after week, his squad management is yet to be tested in English football. Recalling Nathan Ake adds crucial cover for Chelsea in several positions, though, and it is unlikely the Blues spend any money until there is a resolution over Costa’s situation.
Spending is not a necessity, it is not even a definite need. The sales of Mikel and Oscar, though, enable Chelsea to invest at a time that could prove to be the determining factor in securing their fifth Premier League title. No spending just looks like a bigger gamble – and one that Chelsea don’t need to take.