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The potential saviours of Chelsea
Chelsea are in disarray: facing a massive struggle to stay in the Champions League, and well out of the title picture in domestic competition, there is the feeling that an overhaul of the squad is needed this summer. With that in mind, we propose ten players they could bring in to improve the playing staff...
The once-peerless Petr Cech has let an alarming number of errors creep into his game over the past couple of seasons - so much so that he has fallen into the pack when it comes to ranking the best goalkeepers in the league. Perhaps his position as No. 1 at Chelsea is just a little too comfortable, considering the players who should in theory be putting pressure on him - Ross Turnbull and Hilario - have failed to prove their pedigree. Cech could do with someone breathing right down his neck, and Swansea shot-stopper Vorm has proved this season that he can cut it in England, keeping nine clean sheets already, three more than Cech has managed. The Blues have signed Thibaut Courtois, of course, but he's said he still feels a couple of seasons away from being at Chelsea's level.
Frank Lampard has proved this season that he still knows where the goal is - netting nine times in 18 league starts - but he is 34 in the summer, has seemingly fallen out of favour with Andre Villas-Boas and can't go on forever. In his absence, the Blues lack for goals from midfield - Daniel Sturridge is too forward-thinking a player to fall into that category - and we feel that Dempsey has the technique and scoring ability to produce from a deeper position than he is accustomed to at Fulham. If he is willing to leave Chelsea's rivals - and he's said he'd like to play Champions League football at some point, so that's possible - then we feel he'd be a fine fit, having scored ten times in the top division this term.
Juan Mata has been a huge success since joining Chelsea last summer - one of very few high points this season, in fact - but he can't shoulder the creative burden on his own. And while on the other flank Sturridge has started to break through, his final ball and general decision-making could do with plenty of work - or, alternatively, he could be asked to do a shift upfront. If so, Lille midfielder Eden Hazard has it all as a potential wing replacement: the fearless, explosive attacking midfielder has grabbed nine goals and seven assists in Ligue 1 this season. He's also expressed a desire to play in the Premier League sooner rather than later, and we don't doubt that Roman Abramovich would be willing to bare his teeth financially to snap up the Belgian ahead of the club's rivals.
Didier Drogba looks highly likely to move away from London this summer which, despite his advancing years, represents a significant blow: he has played a huge part in Chelsea's success over recent years. The traditional Chelsea unit has always functioned well with a muscular target man upfront - and they could get one over on rivals Tottenham by snatching away loanee Emmanuel Adebayor, who is still owned by Manchester City. Roberto Mancini's side have no use for him, and Tottenham are not able to pay the wages that will probably be required to sign him on a permanent deal - so the door is open for Chelsea to come in and pounce.
Jose Bosingwa just does not look up to the task defensively and, while Branislav Ivanovic is solid at right-back, there is a case to be made for him moving into the centre of the Blues' defence. If he does do that, there will be a vacancy in the back four - and Sagna, a reliable performer in a deteriorating Arsenal side, could be tempted to move across the capital. The France international seems to have gone a little stale at the Emirates, never scaling the heights this season, and the Gunners have never been scared to accept a substantial bid for one of their first-team regulars.
Edinson Cavani was one of Chelsea's chief tormenters when Napoli's fearsome attacking triumvirate ran wild at Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday. He has 15 league goals already this season in a Napoli team that has underperformed in Serie A, and the Italian outfit are willing to listen to offers for him. Sure, Abramovich's hands may have been burned by the spectacular failure of the Fernando Torres purchase, but Cavani looks a safe bet for Premier League success: a physical, hard-working striker who can score a variety of goals.
A slightly more physical option would be Hulk, an acolyte of Villas-Boas following their productive time together at Porto last season. The Brazil international would relish the bruising test offered by the Premier League, and he has the technical gifts common to forward-thinking players from his country. He could also fill the void left by Drogba's surprising efficiency when it comes to set pieces.
The successes of Thomas Vermaelen at Arsenal and Vincent Kompany at Manchester City have opened up the floodgates for Belgian defenders in the Premier League, and Ajax's Vertonghen is expected to follow in the footsteps of that illustrious duo sooner rather than later - particularly as he is out of contract at the end of next season. He's a left-footed player, which Chelsea lack in central defence, and a natural leader.
Chelsea have struggled for a defensive midfielder ever since the departure of Claude Makelele, really: John Obi Mikel, thought to be the natural heir, seems to get subbed off at half-time of almost every game he plays, and must surely be on borrowed time at the Bridge. Tiote has impressed with his economical, Makelele-esque style of play: shrewd positioning, canny tackling and the sense to play the right pass at the right time - attributes that would make him welcome at virtually any top club. Plus, at 25, he's got age on his side.
Chelsea have been linked with a move for Athletic Bilbao manager Marcelo Bielsa - but surely it's about time they gave a manager some real backing, so Villas-Boas deserves to stay in the role. But Athletic do have one asset that should interest Chelsea: Ander Herrera, the fulcrum of the Bilbao side - and the player that everything goes through. If Chelsea miss out on Luka Modric again - and that looks increasingly likely, with Tottenham set to finish higher in the table - then he would be a worthy replacement. Chelsea have really been lacking a playmaker ever since Deco left.