Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Spanish daily Marca (h/t Alex Harris of the Daily Star) reported Atsu will be used to "sweeten the deal." The former Porto attacker recently returned to his parent club after an underwhelming loan spell at Bournemouth. Atsu is also a target for La Liga side Levante, but a switch to the Foxes would maintain his Premier League status.
Harry Pratt of the Daily Star recently claimed Mahrez was a target of former manager Jose Mourinho before his dismissal, but the champions will continue their pursuit of the attacker in the summer and are willing to pay up to £20 million for his services.
“With the Foxes riding high in the Premier League, the Stamford Bridge club know they have no chance of landing the France-born playmaker in the current [January] window,” Pratt wrote. “But as long as he keeps performing to the level seen in the last six months, Mahrez will figure on [Roman] Abramovich's shopping list in the summer.”
Arsenal and Manchester United could also compete for Mahrez's signature when the time is right, according to Harris, but the inclusion of Ghana international Atsu could give Chelsea the edge in potential negotiations.
Mahrez has been one of the stars of the season in 2015-16, scoring 13 goals in 21 Premier League appearances this term, according to Squawka.com, but his recent performances have fallen short for Leicester. The Foxes have won only once in their previous five in the league, and Mahrez's form has suddenly dropped off.
The Algerian recently told French radio station RMC he wants to remain loyal to the east Midlands outfit after they showed great faith in him, bringing him to English football and prominence (h/t Simon Jones for the Daily Mail):
I was at Le Havre, I had six months left but nobody came to get me. Leicester tried very hard to get me. I could feel that they wanted me.
I took the decision without knowing the culture or the area. It was a risk.
When you come from far away and you end up in the Premier League it makes you happy. I am happy that I signed for Leicester.
Daniel Storey of Football365 likened Mahrez's form in December to that of Eden Hazard last season, where the Chelsea forward's performances were enough to land him the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award:
Daniel Storey @danielstorey85
Eden Hazard was named PFA Player of the Year after 14 league goals and nine assists. Mahrez on 13 goals and seven assists by Christmas.12/20/2015, 1:07:13 PM
Mahrez's recent performances will trouble Chelsea, especially if they see him as the answer to their creative woes this season.
The Leicester player was on fire in the opening months of the campaign, with inspirational flashes each match, but he now looks jaded after the Christmas period.
Losing Atsu will be undesirable to the champions, but he hasn't developed in the manner he was expected to after signing from Porto in 2013.
If the winger can be used as a makeweight to sign a superior player in January or the summer, his value could be a useful commodity to owner Roman Abramovich.