With the vanes of the transfer rumour mill beginning to whir noticeably faster as speculation intensifies about possible comings and goings at Stamford Bridge in the January window, there are several names which are being threaded together as part of a possible deal. Those in question would afford Jose Mourinho the opportunity to solve two problems which continue to agitate the Chelsea manager and perplex and, at times, infuriate Blues supporters. Firstly, the need to find a striker that can capitalise on the chances created by the finest assortment of midfield maestros in the Premier League. Secondly, freeing the beautiful caged bird that one of these wizards of dribble, Juan Mata, has become.
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How Mourinho must have winced watching Manchester City's wilful destruction of West Ham United in last night's Capital One Cup semi-final tie at the Etihad. City tore the Hammers apart with Alvaro Negredo notching a hat-trick and strike partner Edin Dzeko getting a brace as part of the 6-0 rout. Irrespective of their number one forward Sergio Aguero being out injured, Citizens manager Manuel Pellegrini has strikers he can rely on to punish opposing defences. Pellegrini's men have now racked up an astonishing 59 goals in 15 home matches this season -- a fraction under four strikes per game. (Chelsea's record is 18 goals from nine games at the Bridge.)
Mourinho has patiently done his best to afford opportunities to the current trio of forwards available to him, but despite best endeavours to motivate and cajole them, Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba have flattered to deceive. Will the decision the Blues boss took last August to allow Romelu Lukaku to go on a season-long loan to Everton come back to haunt him? It's easy to speculate. Nine goals and three assists in 15 Premier League appearances thus far for the Toffees would suggest so, particularly if Chelsea's current profligacy continues and ultimately proves to be Mourinho's undoing in the pursuit of silverware this season -- hence the rabid transfer speculation.
Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martinez, Gonzalo Higuain and Diego Costa are the names continually linked with Chelsea. Of these, Higuain has already reputedly been the subject of a 50 million pound bid, with Napoli rejecting Mourinho's overtures for their Argentine international who served the Portuguese well in his time as manager of Real Madrid.
Having left Spain for Italy last July for a fee of 34.5 million pounds, it seems improbable that Napoli, going well in Serie A under the stewardship of former Blues interim coach Rafa Benitez, would part with a player who has found the net 13 times in 22 appearances since arriving at the Stadio San Paolo. But money talks, and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has more than most -- potentially paving the way for an improved offer.
Notwithstanding this fact, the London club recently reported a 49.9 million pound loss for the year ending 30th June 2013, and with UEFA's financial fair play rules set to take effect, the Blues will need to balance the books effectively meaning that assets would need to be sold to facilitate any kind of show-stopping, marquee signing. Ba and Kevin De Bruyne are poised to exit, but Ba's value is negligible and despite Mourinho bandying a figure of 25 million pounds at De Bruyne's main suitor, German club VFL Wolfsburg, a loan deal for the Belgium international seems the most likely outcome. All of which leaves Mata as the one immensely valuable Chelsea player, deemed surplus to requirements by Mourinho, whose sale, either direct, or as part of a deal, would allow the Blues manager to make a renewed bid for Higuain, or possibly make a move for prolific Atletico Madrid hitman Costa while keeping UEFA happy.
The case of Mata is a genuine tragedy; not only for the player himself but for Chelsea supporters who love the bones of him -- as much as they love the bones of Mourinho, the man into whose system the Spain international doesn't quite fit. Simply-speaking, the No.10 role that Mata covets has been entrusted by Mourinho to Oscar, and the 22-year-old Brazilian has an industrious, tough-tackling edge to his game which the Blues boss favours -- to say nothing of the ability to transform matches when he enters the fray from the bench as evidenced most recently at a rain-swept St. Mary's Stadium on New Year's Day.
Against Southampton, Mourinho had afforded Mata a rare start with Oscar named among the substitutes. For the first half of the game, Chelsea and Mata laboured in atrocious conditions. In the 53rd minute, with the score at 0-0, Mourinho hauled off Mata as part of an audacious double substitution which included the introduction of Oscar. The Spaniard was visibly incensed at the decision -- but the Blues manager's tactical nous was proved right as the Brazilian went on to assist goals for Torres and Willian before netting one for himself as Chelsea ran out 3-0 winners.
Mata's name has been linked with a host of domestic clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, and while Wayne Rooney could be a part of a deal with United, the reality is that Mourinho will not allow rival Premier League clubs to strengthen their hands mid-season -- which spins the rumour mill vanes around to Costa who just happens to have a 32 million pound buy-out clause written into his contract. Such a clause, with Mata as part of the transfer package, seems much more workable and would represent better value to Chelsea than a similar deal with Napoli for Higuain.
Earlier this week, Atletico Madrid sporting director Jose Luis Perez Caminero suggested that Costa, who has scored a phenomenal 23 goals in 23 appearances this season, was happy playing for Los Rojiblancos. However, Mourinho's ability to woo top talent coupled with Roman Abramovich's pocketbook should never be underestimated.
What makes the case in Mourinho's mind even more compelling to try and prise Costa away from Atletico Madrid is the fact that Arsenal's desperation to sign a world class striker has intensified dramatically since the unfortunate injury to Theo Walcott, and Costa has long been on Emirates boss Arsene Wenger's radar. It wouldn't be the first time that Mourinho has whipped a player away from under the noses of a rival club, Willian and Tottenham Hotspur spring amusingly to mind, and the Chelsea manager would take great pleasure in repeating the feat, especially against his old adversary Wenger and Premier League title rivals Arsenal. Spiteful as it may seem, the method in such apparent madness could be well rewarded should Costa arrive at Stamford Bridge and continue in his rich vein of form.