The New Year never fails to bring out the best (or the worst!) in the rumour merchants, and the January just gone was no different. With Chelsea being a top club with aspirations for world domination, everybody from the ridiculous to the godlike was linked to the blue shirt now so synonymous with success.
On current evidence, Alvaro Morata is perhaps the only man in the Chelsea squad that wouldn’t particularly welcome any decision from Maurizio Sarri to add to the ranks of strikers at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard remains a figure of inconsistency by Chelsea standards and has only youth relative to rival striker Olivier Giroud on his side.
Giroud has thrived playing off World Cup semi-finalist Eden Hazard, with each man acting as the other’s support striker when the opportunity demands it. That was certainly the case in Chelsea’s recent 4-1 demolition of Cardiff after going a goal down, with Giroud twice laying on the Belgian, and this trait sets him apart from the shoot-or-bust target man Morata.
While the jury is still out on Morata, the links to potential replacements will persist. There are three in particular – all of whom were linked in January 2018 – that also stand out as fair game for Mauricio Sarri next January.
Alvaro Morata netted 15 goals for Chelsea in his first season at Stamford Bridge – a modest total by Chelsea standards.
An arrival at West Ham from Stoke in the summer of 2017, his £25m price tag appears to be an absolute bargain. He has almost single-handedly carried West Ham ever since – and his form alone, perhaps, even saved them from relegation in 2017/18.
A change of regime at the Olympic Stadium has done nothing to disrupt the Austrian international’s flow, and he is forming a vital link with this summer’s newcomers Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko.
Given how little time he has had under the stewardship of Manuel Pellegrini, Chelsea may have to stump up at least double that £25m fee.
Ultimately, there can be no doubt that Sarri wants Champions League football by hook or by crook. If Chelsea are to honour their newly-shortened Premier League odds from William Hill after getting a perfect five-game start, that means acquiring a viable, game-changing alternative, especially when the strain of fighting on two fronts becomes apparent later in the season.
Verdict: 6/10 – Too expensive and well-settled, but as shown by his move from Stoke to West Ham last summer, he is not a victim of overzealous loyalty for the right deal.
Away from the inflated prices of the Premier League, Red Star Belgrade striker and Ghanaian international Richmond Boakye has the right credentials to fit into Sarri’s system. He has already been linked with Southampton and has some very impressive stats of late.
Though he is in a far less competitive league right now, getting 27 goals in a first set of 25 appearances anywhere is still impressive. While the quality of opposition changes, the physics behind scoring goals never does, and Boakye – like Barnes – would move to Stamford Bridge expecting to initially be a part of a rotation system.
Through his exquisite combination of speed and power, the calendar year of 2017 alone saw Boakye net a total of 42 goals for club and country, prompting his estimated transfer fee to treble on Transfermarkt.
Verdict: 5/10 – A proven hitman with a lust for goals, but the leap from Serbian to English top flight football is stratospheric these days.
Boakye has already been the subject of a premature, though no less imagination-whetting ‘Welcome to Chelsea’ video.
Back in the Premier League, there is a cheaper alternative to Arnautovic just waiting for greener pastures. Ashley Barnes enjoyed an impressively consistent end to 2017/18, netting in six of his final ten games as Burnley finished seventh.
It is a finish some Burnley fans have since regretted, with the squad’s preparations for 2018/19 ruined by Europa League qualifiers.
Barnes was amongst those that suffered the sharpest fall from grace. He spent much of pre-season injured, and though he scored on his comeback in Burnley’s 3-1 Europa League qualifying win over Aberdeen, he remained below par in terms of fitness and sharpness. He appears to have turned the corner at the most opportune moment, netting two in Burnley’s maiden league win of the season (4-0 at home to early flyers Bournemouth).
He is not the star name most would expect, but Barnes’ strengths are self-evident.
He is a big, muscular athlete that refuses to be bullied by opposition defenders, and knows where the target is. He is also no stranger to being an ‘impact sub’, which would eliminate any potential problems with long-term morale, such as those experienced by Michy Batshuayi all too recently.
Verdict: 7/10 – He is the ‘impact sub’ Sarri needs, but seems to only be as good as the rest of the team allows him to be. His time at Burnley is prime evidence of that.