Chelsea Transfers: 5 Most-Hyped Targets for Rafa Benitez
If you were aware of Sunday's result against Aston Villa, you can only imagine my despair. Here I am, happily writing my slideshow consisting of five targets for Rafa Benitez in the January transfer window, outlining perfect replacements for any departures, where the squad needs improvement and so on. And then, to my delight (being a Blues fan) Chelsea deliver a crushing 8-0 annihilation to the West Midlands club, changing my piece entirely. I guess that's journalism for you, eh?
To be brutally honest, the targets didn't change at all. You can't change your emphasis on your future plans on the basis of an 8-0 thrashing. No, Rafa Benitez and all football followers will agree that a few changes need to made at Stamford Bridge.
There are some targets more obvious than others—the 26-year-old Colombian international who scores for fun might just be included—but it's not just who I want to sign. It's who the club need to sign if they are to win any sort of trophy this season.
Now, over to you, Mr Abramovich...
5. Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
If Chelsea are truly committed to enforcing their latest transfer strategy of purchasing young and exciting players, they could do a lot worse than signing Bosnian playmaker Miralem Pjanic.
He's one of the best passers in Serie A, and with terrific balance linked to his low centre of gravity, he's somewhat reminiscent of a young Andres Iniesta. A creative force for coach Zdenek Zeman, Pjanic plays behind the striker, feeding through-balls and seeing the passes that quite literally no other player does. He's not half bad at free-kicks either, mind you.
Pjanic impressed the best clubs in Europe with some tantalising performances as an 18-year-old for Ligue 2 alongside Metz, with Europe's elite sending their best scouts to check out the youngster.
And despite interest from Real Madrid and Arsenal for his signature, it was Lyon who decided to fork out €7.5 million for the highly promising 18-year-old midfielder. He signed a five-year contract to mark his intention to play at Stade Gerland for many years to come, and perhaps replace the club stalwart Juninho Pernambucano, who was interested in a move back to his native Brazil.
He impressed greatly in his time at Lyon with 10 goals and 11 assists in his second season at the club, including scoring the goal that effectively knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions League back in March of 2010. He also played a key part in helping the club achieve second place in Ligue 1—with Claude Puel's side pipped to the title by Bordeaux on the final day of the season.
However, after the arrival of Yohann Gourcuff in the summer of 2010, Pjanic saw his first-team chances limited and, just a year later, signed for Serie A outfit Roma for €11 million, who were looking to rebuild under their new American owners.
Three goals with nine assists in his maiden season at the Rome-based club saw an impressive start for the creative midfielder, and now Chelsea are rumoured to be following the progress of the Bosnian after Roma's 4-2 victory over AC Milan.
It could be that Pjanic would be interested with a move to England, although with Roma seemingly unwilling to let their star man go for less than £13 million, the Blues could look elsewhere for alternative targets.
4. Alexandre Pato (AC Milan)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
On the second of August in 2007, AC Milan made what was regarded as a massive gamble, opting to spend the best part of €23 million on 17-year-old Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato from Internacional Porto Alegre.
Even more so, considering the fact that, due to laws residing in Italy regarding Non-EU players, Pato was unable to play for the European champions until the following January.
But there was something about this player that meant AC Milan absolutely had to sign him, even if it was just to ensure the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid didn't get their hands on him. This was all but confirmed just nine days after joining when Pato made his debut at the San Siro, scoring in the 5-2 demolition of Napoli. It was clear to fans of the Rossoneri that a new star was born.
However, despite managing an impressive total of 51 goals in 117 Serie A appearances, there's been a lingering feeling for some time that Pato has never quite reached his potential while at Milan.
Injuries, reports of partying and divorced before he was 20. And while it could be justified to criticise Pato for lacking the motivation to succeed, it must be pointed out that the Brazilian is still only 23 years of age.
On his day, Pato is one of the most lethal finishers in Europe. His pace, movement and his passion for scoring goals explains why he is still regarded as a key figure for the Brazil side. But at club level, the general consensus is that it's time for the forward to depart Italy and seek a fresh challenge elsewhere, perhaps in Spain or in England. Certainly, Pato's agent will be kept busy should Milan's vice president Adriano Galliani decide to put him up for sale.
And with Daniel Sturridge reported to have undergone a medical at Liverpool ahead of a £12 million move, Chelsea could look to Pato to replace him and join their Brazilian contingent at Stamford Bridge.
However, reports in Brazil have claimed that Corinthians are looking to bring him back to Brazil ahead of their new season (Sky Sports), and the Blues could yet again lose out in their bid to sign 'The Duck.'
3. Paulinho (Corinthians)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
What a year it's been for Brazilian midfielder Paulinho, a player unknown to many football fans before the start of 2012.
After an unorthodox start to his career, playing in Lithuania and Poland before joining Corinthians in 2010, Paulinho has gone from strength to strength at the Brazilian club, displaying the kind of tirelessness and bravery that most midfielders crave.
In addition to his mental superiority, Paulinho is physically inept. A strong frame combined with terrific pace and a tank full of energy, he never stops working as he works forward to help his team attack while also tracking back to maintain solidity in defence. He's stamped his authority in the Brazil senior side, having been handed his debut by former coach Mano Menezes last year, and has two goals in eight caps.
He was linked with a move to Chelsea before a possible clash in the Club World Cup (Goal.com), and after both Chelsea and Corinthians reached the final in Japan, Paulinho was handed the chance to put himself in the shop window. He was impressive throughout, aiding his team's cause with an assist as the Brazilians ran out 1-0 winners to be crowned world champions.
Anything between £10-15 million would be a wise amount to spend on Paulinho, who at 24 years old is far from a finished article but still has at least 10 years left in him at the top level. And with Frank Lampard's future at the West London club uncertain at present, signing Paulinho in January would at least soften the blow left by the England midfielder should he depart Stamford Bridge.
2. Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
It seems inevitable that without Willian among their ranks, Shakhtar Donetsk will fall apart in the latter stages. And that's the main reason why up until now, the dangerous Brazilian has had every move away from Ukraine blocked by his club. It's an acknowledgement that without Willian, the club wouldn't have gotten through the group stages.
His performances in all six of the group games were nothing short of sensational, turning in man of the match displays against Chelsea and Juventus, while in the process scoring four goals and notching five assists as the star of the group finally gains the recognition that he so desperately craved.
But the playmaker has his heart set on a move to the Premier League, and for a while, he was linked with a move to Tottenham before the club signed Mousa Dembele to replace Luka Modric. It seems, though, that Willian favours a move to join fellow countrymen David Luiz, Ramires, Oscar and Lucas Piazon at Stamford Bridge, and he could very well become a world-class player at Chelsea.
However, with the club possessing a wealth of attacking options in Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses and Juan Mata, it's becoming more unlikely that Willian's plea for a move to London will be granted. His eye for scoring and making goals, however, could be one of the pieces missing in Rafa Benitez's rebuilding project at Chelsea. Because in his view, having too many players is a good dilemma to have, not a bad one.
1. Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Every time this player features in the Atletico Madrid lineup, you can sense the trembling of the defenders on the opposition team.
Some may rise to the challenge of stopping the 26-year-old former Porto striker, while others—and this is the vast majority—seem to enjoy the worst game of their career as Falcao arrives to make a mockery of their defending. This guy is serious about his football and, obviously, scoring goals.
He arrived at the Vicente Calderon with huge pressure placed on his shoulders, with the £34 million signing the star at Atletico after Sergio Aguero left for Manchester City last summer. But Falcao absorbs the pressure. No, he doesn't just absorb it. He relishes it. He lives for it. Chelsea fans won't need to be reminded of his hat trick against the Blues in the European Super Cup as they prepare for the biggest transfer of the year.
He is one of the most feared strikers in world football, and rightly so, for Falcao has scored a mammoth total of 49 goals in just 54 games in the calendar year. And while it's some way off Lionel Messi's unbeatable haul of 91 goals in 69 games, the rise to prominence for Falcao has been nothing short of magical.
A move to Chelsea has been reported for some time now, and with Daniel Sturridge departing for Liverpool and Romelu Lukaku staying on loan at West Brom, a move for Falcao could be more of a matter of urgency rather than luxury.
Anything less than £48 million would be unacceptable for Atletico, but it seems like only a matter of time before we see Falcao and Fernando Torres terrorising Premier League defenders, as Chelsea appear to have stolen a march in the race to sign the world's most in-form striker.