After a summer spent with their hands tied in the market, it was expected that the Blues would be busy in January but there have been no big deals yet
It was a long and hard-fought legal battle that saw Chelsea’s transfer ban lifted ahead of the January window, but subsequent inaction has left many puzzled as to why there have yet to be any big deals done at Stamford Bridge.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) partially overturned FIFA’s transfer ban ruling, after disagreeing with football’s governing body over some of Chelsea’s infractions regarding the signing of minors.
CAS effectively halved the ban and the Blues, having been prevented from bringing in fresh faces during the summer, were thus cleared to strengthen their squad this month.
The Londoners had been so confident of at least reducing their ban that they began preparing their January window recruitment strategy long before the positive news was announced.
And yet we have yet to see any major new arrivals in west London. Chelsea are keen admirers of Borussia Dortmund wonderkid Jadon Sancho and RB Leipzig’s prolific hitman Timo Werner but, thus far, they have only signed 16-year-old Bryan Fiabema from Tromso in Norway.
Frank Lampard has previously urged his club to sign a forward because December was a month of inconsistency stemming from profligacy in the final third.
“I will look at all areas of the team but I think it was quite clear in the summer that if you lose Eden Hazard, who was a huge part of scoring or creating our goals last season and the season before that, you are going to have some issues up front,” Chelsea’s manager said.
“I think we’ve found ways as a team to still be competitive. We’ve shown that in the league and the Champions League. But if we’re going to get even better, to be more clinical in forward areas, then I think we’ll look at [bringing in players] because we’re just not converting enough chances.
“I’m not here to criticise anybody because we’ve just qualified from a really tough group to get through to the next stage of the Champions League.
“But we have standards here and I know how much the players also want to be successful. It’s very clear [we need more quality in attack], so we’ll keep working towards it.”
Lampard will, therefore, be as disappointed as the fans that the Blues forward line has still to be strengthened, 17 days since the winter window opened.
The Blues boss played down interest in Moussa Dembele before last week’s game against Burnley, stating, “He is a player I know and the club know. But I am surprised to see his name pop up so regularly when it is not popping up so regularly in my conversations [with the club], to be brutally honest.”
However, Dembele is another player Chelsea like and it was telling that Lampard’s attempt to distance his club from the French forward only arrived after Lyon’s president Jean-Michel Aulas ruled out selling the 23-year-old in January.
And that is the major issue facing Chelsea right now. Very few clubs – if any – are willing to offload a prolific goalscorer at this point in the season.
“People who are clinical are hard to find,” Lampard lamented. “I will only [buy a player] if I know we are improving the squad that we have already.
“At the minute, we are still working very hard on the training ground and in games to get things right ourselves.”
For now, that is all most Premier League managers can do, as finding a good deal in January is never easy. Indeed, Liverpool are the only top-six club to sign a player in this transfer window, and even that was down to the fact that the Reds unearthed an incredibly low buyout clause in Takumi Minamino’s contract with Red Bull Salzburg.
In total, only 12 deals have been done across the entire league and five of those were loan moves. There is an understandable reluctance among the English elite to get exploited by European sides who are aware that they are desperate to buy and have plenty of money to spend.
At this stage, we are probably just waiting for that one big transfer to get the market moving with a host of replacement signings.
For example, Olivier Giroud has already agreed terms with Inter but their attempt to send Matteo Politano to Roma to clear space in their squad has now seemingly stalled.
Chelsea are, therefore, stuck in a perilous position.
They are ready to let Giroud leave but if they are not able to sign a new forward, they would be left sweating on the fitness of first-choice No.9 Tammy Abraham for the remainder of the season. An injury to their top goalscorer could easily derail their entire campaign.
Chelsea are also aware, though, that they have other areas of concern. They are particularly keen to add a left-back, with Marcos Alonso having fallen out of favour under Lampard, or a left-sided central defender like Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake.
Former Blues manager Antonio Conte would like to be reunited with Alonso at Inter but Chelsea are unwilling to let the Spaniard go on the cheap, which could supper a transfer to San Siro given the Nerazzurri do not have much money to spend this month.
Of course, even without January additions, Chelsea will be optimistic about the second half of the season.
They are fourth in the Premier League, five points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United, and are looking forward to a last-16 Champions League showdown with Bayern Munich with next-to-no pressure on them at all, safe in the knowledge that they are ahead of schedule in Lampard’s first year at the helm.
This is a young squad full of players that are only going to improve. It might go against Chelsea’s nature as a club renowned for doing big business in the transfer market but Lampard’s policy of promoting academy players to the first team has been an undoubted success.
Of course, there will be opportunities as deadline day approaches to get some new players in but, as Lampard noted, finding players that will improve this Chelsea squad won’t be easy.