Chelsea were unfamiliarly handed a midweek free from competitive football, yet still remain reluctant to delve into transfer territory.
The Blues’ last fixture saw them run out comfortable winners in the FA Cup and with a midweek rest the first team should be in peak condition for Saturday’s tie with Hull. The remaining entourage are largely unscathed from injury and fatigue with Nicolas Anelka expected to lead the line after a hamstring strain kept him out of last weekend’s activities. Daniel Sturridge would expect to partner him up top after a sharp performance against Watford in which he aided his first team credentials with two well taken finishes.
With a vacant defensive midfield slot unassigned, Juliano Belletti will stake a claim with his naturally defensive mind-set likely to receive precedence over Michael Ballack’s more attacking tendencies. However, both players are equally capable in adapting to the role left behind by African colleagues Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel. The position has snowballed in its importance in the modern game, as the link between defence and attack is now adopted into almost all formations and teams. The position is more recognisable in the diamond formation employed by Chelsea but predominantly seen across the Premier League. Javier Mascherano, Michael Essien, Lee Cattermole and Wilson Palacios in particular have notched up impressive price tags as they have become the unsung heroes of their respective clubs. Instrumental in their ability to read the play and pick up opposition midfielders who break from midfield, their role needs to be filled with a player obtaining the right fundamentals.
It remains to be seen whether the west Londoners will add to their squad in the January period – manager Carlo Ancelotti is adamant the squad can cope with both the African departures and the pending transfer ban. However, pundits and journalists alike continue to speculate the club with high-profile purchases, many of whom anticipating Ancelotti to return to former club AC Milan for their prized possessions. This speculation may just remain just that, but one thing that is clear, is that no-one should be leaving the Bridge this January as squad size is imperative to Premier League success.
January transfers are always acclaimed for their risky attachments. Players moving during this period have long been regarded as one of two opposites considered to either be expensive flops or inspirational in helping a side achieve their pre-season ambitions. The Blues may necessitate a buy, but this must be at the right price for the club. Expensive, rushed decisions in the January period could see the current ensemble unsettled by the rise of big names who demand to walk into the first team. For example, the potential purchase of an Alexandre Pato or a Sergio Aguero would surely command one of the two roles in attack. Therefore, Anelka is likely to be compensated for with a place on the bench – unthinkable that last season’s Premier League top-scorer would fall surplus to requirements. It would be unlikely that Didier Drogba would fall to the bench, as the club’s current leading striker has been in superb form and a player of his calibre is essential to the club. Drogba has been unsettled before when omitted from the side – as seen under the controversial reign of Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Chelsea’s league form has been inconsistent of late, picking up a poor return in the December period, collecting nine points from a possible 18 – scoring just five times in their last four league games and conceding a hatful across all competitions. The Blues’ notoriously unpredictable away form has been well documented and trip to struggling Hull may produce more difficulties than one might expect. The Tigers find themselves just off bottom spot with a return of 18 points from 20 games.
The Blues players must now pledge their first team pleas as Essien, Mikel, Drogba and Salomon Kalou leave for Africa. All must raise their games to compensate for these loses, yet the Londoners will remain firm favourites for Saturday’s game. Hull are likely to come out battling and although failing to defy the top four from taking all three points this season, they have posed respectful challenges in all their ties this term.