The winter transfer window may now have closed but the hunt for new players at Chelsea never ceases.
Andre Villas-Boas has been handed the remit of rebuilding an ageing squad and having set the ball rolling by signing the likes of Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu, more arrivals can be expected this summer. The question is: what calibre of player will the Blues be able to attract to the club?
With Manchester United lurking ominously on the fixture calendar and the team currently sitting fourth in the table ahead of Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal – three points, four points and five points behind, respectively – it is far from certain that Chelsea will qualify for the Champions League next season. However, with the glass half full, let’s assume that Chelsea hold their current position and make it to Europe’s elite club competition for the ninth successive season.
Qualification assured, here are the three players I would like to see gracing Stamford Bridge on a regular basis next season.
Eden Hazard – Lille
Hazard has become one of the hottest properties in European football with his displays lighting up French football over the past two and a half seasons. He followed being named as the UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year (France’s version of the PFA award) in the 2009/10 season by winning the senior gong last campaign after being the instrumental figure in his team’s march to the domestic double.
Capable of playing out wide or behind the strikers, Hazard’s vision, speed and fondness for taking on opposing defenders have led to the likes of Real Madrid coveting his signature but a recent admission to a preference for a move to England this summer will have pricked up AVB’s ears. Chelsea have been short of pace in attacking positions in recent times – Daniel Sturridge excepted – and it has been encouraging to hear that the club have enquired about the 20-year-old in each of the last three transfer windows. With Belgian compatriots Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne already on the books, I sincerely hope he feels that SW6 becomes his second home.
Edinson Cavani – Napoli
As much as it pains me to say it, it looks like this will be Didier Drogba’s last season at the club with Chelsea unwilling to offer him the two-year contract that he is seeking. While one might think his departure would pave the way for Fernando Torres to lead the line, his recent displays while the big man has been away at the African Cup of Nations have rubber stamped the fact that Chelsea is not the club for him. AVB seems reluctant to play Sturridge through the middle and Lukaku is still a work in progress which means a centre forward will have to be courted.
Cavani has been the most impressive striker in Serie A over that last two seasons. (Before anyone argues with that statement, I don’t care how many goals Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores, to me he’s a flat-track bully in the mould of former Rangers striker Marco Negri albeit with a wider range of skills). The Uruguayan hitman leads the line like a modern day centre forward – being quick, powerful and capable of scoring goals from any position whether with his left foot, right foot or in the air. He topped the goalscoring charts in Italy last campaign and already has 12 this campaign with only one coming from the penalty spot. Cavani impressed in both matches against Man City in the Champions League earlier this season and I fear Chelsea will learn first hand just how effective he is when we meet Napoli in their second round tie later this month.
Thiago Alcantara – Barcelona
You often hear of players being the ‘new Pele’ (Neymar, for example) or the ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’ (Gheorghe Hagi) but rarely do they fully live up to their billing, Lionel Messi being a notable exception. However, Thiago has every chance of emulating the player that he has most often been compared to – modern day Barcelona great and team mate, Xavi Hernandez.
The 20-year-old broke into the Catalan giants’ first team in the latter half of last season and impressed so much that he was quickly called up by Spanish national team coach Vicente Del Bosque to secure his eligibility for the nation in spite of his dual Brazilian nationality. Last summer he was the outstanding performer in the UEFA Under 21 Championships, being named player of the tournament as Spain lifted the trophy. This season, the arrival of Cesc Fabregas has made it even harder for Thiago to break in to what is the best midfield in club football and there are murmurs that he might be prepared to leave Camp Nou in search of first team football. An excellent passer of the ball and with an eye for goal, he would give Chelsea some much needed creativity in the middle of the park,. He is likely to command a transfer fee around the £20m mark but that should be well with in Roman’s reach especially considering a £40m package was tabled for Luka Modric last August.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a distinct possibility of the Blues slipping out of the top four *shudder*. Accordingly, I have a shortlist of alternative targets should the worst happen. Look out for that in the coming days.