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Chelsea in January: Smart, opportunistic, but lacking clarity All things considered, Chelsea endured a quiet January transfer window, but can Thomas Tuchel be satisfied with the club's work ahead of the second half of the season? 13:30

Chelsea in January: Smart, opportunistic, but lacking clarity
All things considered, Chelsea endured a quiet January transfer window, but can Thomas Tuchel be satisfied with the club's work ahead of the second half of the season?


At the end of 2021, we dubbed Chelsea under owner Roman Abramovich as the kings of the January transfer window. That assessment was made through the Blues making astute signings and not being afraid to buy and sell for major money. This time around, it has been a far quieter period for the reigning European champions, who had been expected to bring in a like-for-like replacement for the injured Ben Chilwell. However, regardless of a lack of activity in and out of Stamford Bridge, Thomas Tuchel can be satisfied with the club’s business during the opening month of the year.

The major decision revolved around how to replace Chilwell, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to an ACL injury. It quickly emerged that Tuchel’s preferred option was to recall Emerson Palmieri from his loan spell at Lyon, even if it meant paying a fee. However, such has been the Italy international’s impact at his temporary club that all offers were rebuffed, leaving Tuchel to consider alternatives. The German was against bringing in a fresh face on a permanent basis as he did not want to have three senior players in the same position on the books come the summer, and that was undoubtedly the right call.

Marcos Alonso has his strengths and weaknesses, but he is an able deputy in the circumstances. Kenedy, who is back from a loan spell at Flamengo, could also have a role to play going forward, but Tuchel may be as willing to hand opportunities to Dylan Williams and Lewis Hall. The latter had already enjoyed a sensational debut against Chesterfield in the FA Cup before Williams arrived from Derby County, an opportunistic move from Chelsea with the Rams needing to raise funds. As it stands, it is unclear who is above the other in the pecking order right now, but there are more pros than cons to giving them game time over Kenedy.

© Reuters

Ahead of January, it appeared to be a near certainty that Ross Barkley would depart Stamford Bridge, but the out-of-favour Englishman has remained in West London. Tuchel will not necessarily be against keeping the playmaker, but he is someone that he could have done without. Barkley – now 28 years of age – has no future at the club and is just taking up space in the squad and wages on the club’s outgoings. The likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur should be praised for how they have conducted business regarding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dele Alli, and it would have made complete sense for Chelsea to follow suit.

Taking such a stance would have freed up money to get deals over the line that really matter. If reports are to be believed, trying to keep Andreas Christensen at Chelsea is a lost cause, but club officials could have invested any funds saved on Barkley by producing improved offers for Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger. There is an argument that Chelsea should be doing that regardless, but the club is also run as a business. While Chelsea have been smart with some of their activity in recent weeks, failure to offload Barkley comes as a hindrance to all concerned.

Chelsea's Ross Barkley during the warm up before the match, December 19, 2021© Reuters

There was not a day that went by during January that Ousmane Dembele‘s future was not spoken about or debated, and that continued on transfer deadline day. Chelsea are among a number of clubs who are admirers of the Barcelona winger, yet did not pull the trigger when it came to signing the Frenchman when they had the chance. Unless one club steals a march on the others, Chelsea are always going to be in the running due to Tuchel’s previous association with the 24-year-old, and the Premier League giants undoubtedly made the correct call in resisting temptation to sign Dembele for the second half of the campaign. As already noted with Barkley, Chelsea already have an overly-populated squad, and the presence of Dembele would have disputed similar players who are in desperate need of game time and rhythm.

With the introduction of new FIFA regulations regarding loan transfers, Chelsea will have to thoroughly assess how to manage that change going forward, but that is no excuse for failing to find solutions for some of their fringe players. In the case of Harvey Vale, there is some justification for the 18-year-old seeing out of the campaign at his parent club having already been used by Tuchel, but this felt like a time when he could go abroad to a second-tier team in the Eredivisie, like Chelsea have used to great effect in the past with Mason Mount and Armando Broja spending time at Vitesse. A temporary switch to a competitive Huddersfield Town squad – which was rejected by Chelsea – was perhaps not ideal, but there were plenty of other suitable clubs in the EFL to explore.

Barcelona attacker Ousmane Dembele pictured on November 2, 2021© Reuters

While Chelsea supporters will not mind Vale sticking around while the club attempt to agree a long-term contract with the academy graduate, the same cannot be said with regards to Xavier Mbuyamba. The former Barcelona youngster has spent 18 months at Chelsea without coming close to featuring for the first team, and his agent has revealed that loan bids were rejected in January. The decision has seemingly been made with Chelsea’s Under-23 fixtures in mind, but more consideration should have been given to the player. Mbuyamba turned 20 years of age on New Year’s Eve, and his only experience of senior football thus far is 11 games in the Dutch’s second tier. Understandably, he feels that his development is stagnating.

According to his agent, offers from the EFL and Eredivisie – the top division in his homeland – were on the table, and he may already feel that Chelsea have lost sight of what he needs to be doing to benefit his career. With 17 months remaining on his contract, do not expect fresh terms to be signed in the future, but Chelsea may have accepted that already ahead of potentially cutting their losses in the summer.

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