Rafa Benitez has shown his hand as the January transfer window draws closer, and the Chelsea manager is wise to make signing a defensive midfielder his first priority.
According to Sky Sports, Benitez told The Times the following:
You need to know the players and find the balance. If you have too many players with quality - these players we were talking about, all dynamic but cannot regain the ball - you do not have the balance. If you give the ball away, you have to regain [it].
The knee injury Oriol Romeu suffered this past Saturday against Sunderland will likely keep him out for the remainder of the season, according to The Guardian’s Dominic Fifield. In addition, Sky Sports’ report notes that John Obi Mikel will miss time while taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Blues also sold Raul Meireles to Fenerbahce in the summer and allowed Michael Essien leave for Real Madrid on loan. This leaves the team extremely thin in defensive midfield, even with Frank Lampard back on the pitch.
Benitez’s analysis of the roster he is working with is completely correct. With Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses, Chelsea’s group of attacking midfielders is as talented as any in the Premier League. But all their flare will be useless without quality ball-winners playing behind them.
With only Lampard and Ramires available to play this position for a portion of the season, failing to sign a defensive midfielder could end up being a costly mistake.
The Blues are just three points ahead of Everton, Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion in the table, and failing to win balls in the middle of the pitch for just one or two matches could cause the team to fall from third down to seventh.
While much of the rumors surrounding Chelsea’s January shopping list point to a striker as the primary target, the team would benefit more from shoring up its midfield first.
The Sky Sports report tabs Brazil’s Paulinho and Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote as possible options, and either player would be a smart signing. While these two players are the subject of speculation, there is no shortage of holding midfielders who may be available when the transfer window opens.
The Blues could choose to go after Celtic’s Victor Wanyama, Rennes' Yann M’Vila or Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender if they grow disenchanted with Paulinho or Tiote.
Whoever makes it onto Chelsea’s radar, the team would greatly benefit from prioritizing its need for a midfielder over its desire for a striker.