Just over two months ago when I started this blog I listed the three transfer targets that Chelsea should pursue in the summer if they were to continue in the vein of recent seasons and qualify for the Champions League.
At the time of writing that piece, Andre Villas-Boas was still at the helm and the club sat in the hallowed yet precarious position of fourth place in the Premier League. As we know, times have changed quite considerably since then and with Roberto Di Matteo taking the wheel Chelsea find themselves looking upwards from sixth position having been overtaken by Arsenal and Newcastle with Spurs still sitting in the Champions League places.
The targets I outlined in the aforementioned piece would be reluctant – to say the least – to move to a club that is not playing in Europe’s premier club competition seeing as each is a young footballer with the world at his feet. Should Chelsea, as looks increasingly likely, fail to overhaul those immediately above them over the closing games of the campaign then more lower profile players will be sought when the transfer window reopens.
But just because these players might not quite be mentioned in the world superstar bracket, that does not mean that they lack the talent and ambition to drive Chelsea back to where they belong. Here are three that I believe could do just that.
Stephane Sessegnon – Sunderland
Steve Bruce has taken a lot of abuse from both the club’s supporters and the press for his tactics during his time in charge of Sunderland which saw them languishing in the lower reaches of England’s top division prior to his sacking at the end of November last year. But some of his moves in the transfer market while manager on Wearside have proved to be inspired. One of those is James McClean who was signed for the paltry sum of €400,000 from Derry City last August and whose rise to prominence has been startling under Bruce’s successor Martin O’Neill but the player who has excelled at the Stadium of Light under both regimes is Sessegnon. Principally an attacking midfielder, the Benin international can play in the middle or on either flank and is also capable of filling in as a support striker when called upon. A fountain of creativity and goals, he could provide the ammunition that has been sorely lacking at Chelsea this season.
At 27 years of age, his chances of playing for a big club are slowly receding and he would jump at the chance of a move to a club with genuine ambitions at the business end of the game. Competition from his former club PSG might have to be resisted but the big spending French outfit will probably have more eye-popping targets in mind. One argument against signing Sessegnon could be that his preferred role would be too similar to Juan Mata but the Spain international has looked jaded in the last few weeks due to playing almost every match this season and another playing option could help relieve his burden.
Iker Muniain – Athletic Bilbao
Two aspects that have been excruciatingly conspicuous by their absence at Stamford Bridge is pace and width – preferably combined within the same player. The fleet-footed Daniel Sturridge has been stationed on the flank but is a central striker at heart and it is time a true heir to Arjen Robben was installed in SW6. One possibility for this role is January signing Kevin De Bruyne but with the Belgian slated to spend next season on loan at Racing Genk another option has to be found and it doesn’t get much more exciting than Muniain.
The 19-year-old Spaniard bask possesses everything needed in a top class winger. He has a box of tricks at his disposal that could bamboozle any defender (just ask Manchester United) and a rapid turn of pace that can leave opponents trailing in his wake along with great vision and good passing accuracy. Muniain is predominantly right-footed but has been largely deployed on the left by his manager Marcelo Bielsa who has also instilled an impressive work ethic in the youngster, a crucial facet needed to win over demanding English spectators. One area that in which he could use some work on is his modest goal return but with his whole football career ahead of him that is something that can be improved upon with more games under his belt. There are rumours that Barcelona and Real Madrid are both sniffing around him but a concerted effort and the promise of regular action could persuade Muniain to join compatriots Fernando Torres, Oriol Romeu and Mata in west London.
Klass-Jan Huntelaar – Schalke
While creativity has certainly been an issue at Chelsea, putting the ball in the net has been just as problematic. To date just 56 goals have been scored from 33 Premier League matches, compare that to 84 at the same point during the title-winning campaign of 2009/10 and it is clear that the inability to kill teams off is proving costly. Torres may have flickered into some semblance of life in recent weeks but there is no guarantee he will be fully-restored to the goalscoring virtuoso that he once was. Nicolas Anelka has left for China with Didier Drogba likely to join him when his contract expires in the summer leaving striking options scarce especially as Sturridge – for some inexplicable reason – seems unlikely ever to be given a chance as the team’s main strike.
The answer to Chelsea’s prayers could be Huntelaar who is finally delivering on the promise of the early years of his career. A flurry of goals at Ajax dried up with big moves to Real Madrid and AC Milan but he has rediscovered his old cutting edge at Schalke. In his debut season in Gelsenkirchen, he only troubled the scoreboard on 8 occasions in the Bundesliga but has rectified that this campaign with an extraordinary 24 goals in 27 games. He is only denied top spot in the German marksmanship charts by Mario Gomez who himself is redefining the word ‘prolific’. All in all Huntelaar has netted a quite remarkable 43 goals from 43 games in all competitions this campaign and is exuding all the signs of confidence currently lacking in Chelsea’s £50m hitman. At 28 years old the Holland international might well be tempted to have one last crack at the big time though if Schalke qualify for the Champions League extricating him from Germany could be a little tricky. A glance at Roman Abramovich’s chequebook could prove pivotal as well with the chance to test himself in yet another top league being another added attraction.