Football Features

How Chelsea could line up in 2020 now they can spend in the January transfer window

By Harry Edwards

How Chelsea could line up after the January transfer window

Published: 12:22, 27 December 2019

Chelsea have been cleared to sign players in January after their transfer ban was reduced.

The Blues were initially banned from signing players for two windows for breaching Fifa regulations relating to the transfer of minors and served the first of those in the summer. But Chelsea had always intended to appeal, first to Fifa and then to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The former rejected the appeal but the latter reduced the ban to one window, effectively ending it.

The upshot is that Chelsea will be able to bolster their squad in the January window, which is set to open just as the west Londoners’ has started to derail (they’ve lost three of their last four Premier League games and have just a three-point cushion over fifth-place Spurs).

The Blues have already been linked with a number of players, including the likes of Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha and Ben Chilwell. Manager Frank Lampard, however, was understandably quiet on any potential business but didn’t completely rule out moves in January, telling reporters: “We have to keep the balance of the squad and it has to feel right.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s January, July or not.”

So, how could Chelsea line up if they decided to have a busy January transfer window, adding targets to their high-potential squad and soon-to-be returning stars?

1. Chelsea’s dream 2020 line-up? The future of England

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Over the past few years Chelsea have not been great at giving opportunities to English players. Last season Chelsea’s English contingent played a total of 63 Premier League games, with just 23 of those coming from the start.

Ross Barkley led the way with 27 appearances and 13 starts, just ahead of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s 24 games, six of which came from the off. Callum Hudson-Odoi started four of his 10 games, both of Gary Cahill’s appearances came from the bench while Danny Drinkwater was not used.

This season has been a much better showing, with Chelsea’s Englishmen combining to play 68 games already, with 53 starts. Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham have all been key from the start, while recent weeks have seen Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi slowly embedded after injuries.

If reports are to be believed, Chelsea could be looking to add to this contingent with interest in Jadon Sancho and Ben Chilwell.

Sancho, a boyhood Chelsea fan who is friends with Hudson-Odoi, is rumoured to be growing unhappy with Borussia Dortmund. Forming a backdrop to this tension – which Dortmund are publicly striving to defuse – Chelsea fans have been plastering social media with pictures of Sancho in a photoshopped Blues kit. His signing would make for a mouthwatering English attack alongside Hudson-Odoi and Abraham.

Sancho has recorded nine assists in the Bundesliga so far this season, averaging 0.74 per 90 minutes while Hudson-Odoi’s three in the Premier League have come at an average of 0.91. The pair could combine well and hurt defences on either wing before providing for Abraham, who averages 0.8 goals per 90.

Throw in Christian Pulisic, Willian and Pedro, should the latter two stay, and Chelsea would be left with impressive depth on the wings.

Chelsea have also been linked with English left-back Ben Chilwell, who is part of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City team currently excelling in the Premier League. The Blues have had a bit of a problem at left-back this season with Marcos Alonso more comfortable at wing-back and Emerson stuttering after a bright start.

Chilwell is a fine all-round performer who would perfectly accompany the growing Reece James on the right, both causing trouble in attack while also bringing solidity in defence. In the middle, Tomori has proven himself to be a fine centre-back, despite a minor blip in form recently, and looks set to be part of this Chelsea side for years to come. He has often partnered Kurt Zouma in defence, but with Antonio Rudiger recently returning from injury, the German could find himself back in the first-choice pairing alongside Tomori.

Ahead of them, Chelsea could name an all-England trio but it wouldn’t function very well with Mount, Loftus-Cheek and Barkley all being very similar players. To get the most-balanced midfield you still need N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, with the latter proving his doubters wrong.

With Loftus-Cheek’s return date as yet unconfirmed, due to set-backs, Mount could provide the English presence in midfield having impressed so far under Lampard. Only Abraham and Pulisic have been directly involved in more Premier League goals than Mount for Chelsea this season.

A possible Chelsea line-up after January transfer window: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Reece James, Antonio Rudiger, Fikayo Tomori, Ben Chilwell; N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount; Jadon Sancho, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi.

2. Conte-esque

  • Lampard insists he’s no Antonio Conte “clone”, in response to Jose Mourinho’s comments following Spurs 0-2 Chelsea…
  • …but he has used a back-three, something Conte won the Premier League with in 2016/17, several times this season.
  • Chelsea are 3/1 to become Wilfried Zaha’s next club by 1st February 2020.

Although Lampard has favoured either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 this season, the Blues manager has not been afraid to utilise three central defenders. It was a system he debuted at Chelsea in their 5-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers and has since used thrice more from the start while also shifting to it mid game.

This isn’t Chelsea’s first taste of the formation. Antonio Conte used a 3-4-3 during his two years at Stamford Bridge, and Lampard can take some inspiration from the Italian.

Starting from the back, Azpilicueta joins Zouma and Rudiger as one of the three centre-backs having done well there for Conte. Tomori and Zouma vy for the third spot in this example, but Lampard’s line-ups in recent weeks have accommodated all four of the aforementioned defenders with Azpilicueta operating as right wing-back.

In our formation, though, James should continue at wing-back having played there while in Chelsea’s academy as they won the FA Youth Cup in 2017, part of a treble. On the other side of the flank, Lampard has Emerson and Alonso to pick from. It appears he favours the former and this could bring an end to the Spaniard’s Chelsea career, despite signing a new five-year deal in October 2018.

In between those two lies the real Conte-throwback aspect of this set-up. Kante assumes the role of, well, Kante in 2016/17, where he played a wonderful midfield destroyer who does the job of at least two other players in both defence and attack. His presence in a slightly deeper role allows his partner more freedom to express his creativity.

Although there is no comparing the two just yet, Jorginho’s role in his system is that of Cesc Fabregas under Conte. Dropping deeper with the protection of Kante and given time and space on the ball, Jorginho can fire balls across the pitch to his attacking teammates. The Italian international has received criticism for his lack of creativity but his shackles have been loosened by Lampard, as shown by his beautiful assist for Tammy Abraham’s goal against Watford (a contender for November’s Goal of the Month award).

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But to whom will he be spraying those passes? Even while their ban was still in place, Chelsea were still being linked with attacking reinforcements. Two of those come in here, in Wilfried Zaha and Moussa Dembele.

It is widely known that Zaha believes he is ready to leave Crystal Palace and test himself in the Champions League. Over the summer he was linked with Arsenal and Everton, going as far as handing in a transfer request. But a move failed to materialise, resulting in Zaha switching agents, and now Chelsea have reportedly made contact.

In this system Zaha would very much play the role of Conte’s Eden Hazard, joining in on the attack but also having to track back to defend. After the Belgian left Chelsea for Real Madrid in the summer, Zaha took his crown as the Premier League’s top dribbler, completing 79 take-ons so far this season.

Alongside him, Dembele is currently Ligue 1’s joint-third top scorer with 10 goals this season so far, which is over a third of Lyon’s total tally in the division. Although he may start just behind Abraham in this system, the former Celtic man would very much be free to rotate with the Englishman when the game allows, either helping to defend or rushing forward in attack.

An alternative Chelsea line-up after January transfer window: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Cesar Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger; Reece James, N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Emerson Palmieri; Moussa Dembele, Tammy Abraham, Wilfried Zaha.

3. System reboot

  • Timo Werner is 4/1 to sign for Chelsea by 1st February.
  • Liverpool (7/2) are the current favourites.
  • Could Kante’s pressing power by utilised wide right in a throwback to his Caen days?

If Lampard wanted to be a bit more adventurous than switching to a three-man central defence (and really prove he’s no Conte clone), he could completely change his system.

As mentioned above, Abraham has been excellent for Chelsea this season, scoring 12 goals in all competitions. But beyond him the Blues have been fairly toothless when it comes to strikers. Neither Olivier Giroud nor Michy Batshuayi have truly impressed under Lampard, despite the latter scoring a winner against Ajax.

One man who appears to be available, and to whom Chelsea have been linked, is RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner. The German’s future is uncertain despite recently signing a new deal, with many of Europe’s top clubs circling.

Werner has 23 goals in 24 games for RB Leipzig across all competitions this season and would certainly add quality to Chelsea’s attack. The problem here is where he’d fit in. He cannot be expected to start on the bench, such is his quality and his presence as a slightly more established striker, but Abraham has done too well to be dropped.

One way Lampard could fix this problem, were Chelsea to sign Werner, is by simply playing two centre forwards. Abraham and Werner (who frequently plays in a two at Leipzig) could complement each other nicely. The pair have nine assists in the Premier League and Bundesliga between them.

Behind them in wider positions are Mount and Kante. This is very much a high-pressing side, with Mount having done that job so well for Lampard so far when playing in more advanced positions. However, Pulisic could also fill his position, or the likes of Loftus-Cheek when he returns.

It would be a new role for Kante at Chelsea, playing on the right up the pitch, but it is not one he is totally unfamiliar with having featured there on occasion for Caen. This is not simply a case of turning Kante into a winger. Rather, it’s about utilising his strengths in pressing opponents to help Chelsea win the ball high up the pitch.

Jorginho and Kovacic continue their partnership in this system, sitting in front of a familiar defence with the exception of one new arrival. Although there have been some promising signs from Chelsea’s centre-backs, the Blues do still need to strengthen their squad and have been linked with former player Nathan Ake.

Ake initially joined Chelsea in 2011 as a 16-year-old and rose through the ranks, being a big part of their academy’s success. However, despite making 17 appearances including one in the FA Cup semi-final, Ake was unable to break into the first team and was sold to Bournemouth in 2017.

Since then he has flourished and is being touted with a move to one of the Premier League’s bigger clubs. Should he return to Chelsea, the Dutchman could set up an academy partnership alongside Tomori helping the Englishman grow despite being just 24 himself.

A wildcard Chelsea line-up after January transfer window: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Nathan Ake, Cesar Azpilicueta; Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic; N'Golo Kante, Mason Mount; Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner.