Chelsea know that they’ve got an uphill battle to fight if they are going to overthrow league leaders Manchester City and retain their Premier League crown.
The current champions are nine points behind Pep Guardiola’s City side but Antonio Conte masterminded Chelsea’s title ambitions from a similar deficit last term.
One thing that the Blues might need to address is their lack of goals so far this season.
The London club have scored nineteen times, that’s only the sixth best total in England’s top flight. City on the other hand have hit the net a whopping thirty-eight times in just eleven league outings, with strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero both scoring regularly.
Chelsea’s big summer signing Alvaro Morata has had a very decent return of seven strikes in ten Premier League appearances. His goal at Stamford Bridge was enough to give his side a victory in their vital win over Manchester United a week ago.
They have a back-up striker in Michy Batshuayi and while the Belgian international can offer goals it seems as though his manager doesn’t truly believe in him for the big games.
Last year it was a change in tactics that would herald Chelsea’s run that saw them crowned league champs, maybe another tweak in their formation could help them get things back on track this term.
Maybe Antonio could forgo a playmaker or return to four at the back, that would free-up space for another forward to play alongside Morata.
As we all know Conte knows the Italian market inside out, so maybe the coach will look at the possibility of bringing in a Serie A hotshot to help spark a goal glut in 2018.
In that regard two names spring to mind, Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan and Napoli’s Dries Mertens.
Argentine Icardi is currently leading the line and captaining the Nerazzurri. In his opening twelve games the striker has bagged himself an impressive eleven goals, including a hat trick in the Milan derby.
His finishing ability, big game mentality and his aerial ability would have impressed Antonio Conte. The twenty-four year old’s technique, pace and strength make him a great all-rounder upfront.
The player also possesses great self confidence, it should be noted that all fantastic forwards possess that!
When discussing his captain, current Internazionale manager Luciano Spalletti has stated:
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached.”
It will be interesting to see if Icardi would be interested in a move away from Italy’s fashion capital. The Argentine has been at Inter for the past four years and he’s always had a prickly relationship with the Inter Milan ultras.
He seems to be a highly ambitious player.
Inter, themselves, wouldn’t want to sell one of their best players mid-season. Especially not this season as they’ve managed to get themselves into the title picture again. That being said the illustrious club might not have much say as it has been widely reported that Mauro’s contract has a release clause of €110m inserted into it.
In today’s market that’s not an unthinkable sum and Roman Abramovich has never been scared to throw his weight around when doing his transfer business.
Stumbling blocks that could halt any potential move could be:
Will the striker want to leave the San Siro in January, especially when Inter have the chance to win the Scudetto?
Would Conte see Icardi as a temperamental talent much in the mould of Diego Costa?
Does the Argentine international favour a move to Real Madrid?
Then there’s Napoli hitman Dries Mertens.
The small striker has been banging in the goals in the last season and a half. In total he has thirty-eight Serie A strikes in forty-seven appearances. Ten of those goals have come during this campaign.
Intelligent Martens would also offer Conte versatility as he can play on either wing as well as through the middle. His assist stats are better than Inter’s Icardi, although unlike the Inter man Dries would be cup-tied for the Champions League.
His small stature could be complimented by playing alongside Morata, who is very strong in the air. It could resemble an old school little and large partnership.
In 2016, Martens outshone Chelsea’s Eden Hazard on the international stage and he won Belgium’s player of the year award. The two playing in the same club team could cause havoc and terrorise opposition defences.
While the forward signed a new longer term contract in May of this year, Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis confirmed that the new deal contained a release clause in it:
“Mertens will remain with us for several years, unless he wants to go to China if someone were to exercise the clause that he wanted, even if I am not in favour of them after Higuain’s departure.”
Reports have since emerged that the release clause could be as little as €30m and that would be pocket change for a club like Chelsea. The clause might not be active until the summer of 2018 but would De Laurentiis reject a higher bid of say £40m for the thirty-year old, knowing he’ll not get that high an offer again?
Would the player choose to leave Napoli in January, when the Partenopei are leading in Italian table and have a chance to win the Scudetto?
The Belgian forward is also guaranteed a starting berth and one through the middle, he might wonder if he’d get the same luxury at the Bridge.
It will be interesting to see if Antonio Conte is brave enough to go more attack-minded and launch a move for a top forward when the January transfer window opens. Another question is will the Chelsea hierarchy back their manager?
It could be a huge winter window for the Blues. Will they show the ambition needed to go out and bring in the reinforcements that can turn around Man City’s lead?