Mauricio Pochettino’s hopes of strengthening his squad in January are likely to depend on Chelsea making space for signings by embarking on another clearout.
Pochettino, who has only five victories from his 16 Premier League games, said Chelsea may need to go back into the transfer market after they lost 2-0 against Everton on Sunday. The club have spent about £1bn since being bought by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital in the summer of 2022, but are 12th after a poor start.
Chelsea brought in 14 players last summer, offset by 15 first-team players leaving permanently or on loan. But they have continued to struggle for goals and will consider buying a top striker, with Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen high on their wishlist. Chelsea have also been scouting the Sporting Lisbon striker Viktor Gyökeres.
Much could rest on Chelsea avoiding a repeat of their mistake last January, when they left Graham Potter with a bloated squad after signing six players and selling one.
Financial fair play will also be a consideration given they are at risk of missing out on European qualification for the second season running. Funds could be raised through sales.
Pochettino bemoaned toothlessness and a lack of aggression at Everton. He said this was “something to analyse” with the hierarchy and the co-sporting directors, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley. Stewart and Winstanley have overseen an ambitious project, focusing on signing young, often unproven talent on long deals.
The club’s co-owner, Behdad Eghbali, has also been influential, although Pochettino has indicated he will have more of a say on transfers.
It is understood Pochettino’s comments have not caused unrest within the club. There are no indications the former Tottenham manager is under any immediate threat of losing his job. Several sources have expressed satisfaction with Pochettino’s early impact and believe he commands the respect of the dressing room.
The Argentinian has had to cope with a long injury list. The new signings Christopher Nkunku and Roméo Lavia have not played a minute of competitive football, and Robert Sánchez, Marc Cucurella and Reece James limped off against Everton. James, the captain, will undergo a scan after another hamstring injury.
Although there is a widespread feeling within Stamford Bridge that results have been worse than most performances, recent displays have left Pochettino seething. He has said his side lack height and feels they need to show more fight. Goals have also been a problem for Chelsea, who have mostly relied on the inexperienced Nicolas Jackson to lead the line.
Chelsea have long held an interest in Toney, who will return next month from his ban for breaching the Football Association’s rules on betting. However Brentford could demand at least £100m for Toney, who is also a target for Arsenal, and there is no guarantee he will hit the ground running after a long spell out.
The England international may also want big wages, which would force Chelsea to move away from their strategy of giving incentivised deals to top prospects. Osimhen was valued at more than £100m by Napoli last summer. Chelsea may decide to hold back on a striker if Nkunku makes an immediate impact once he returns from a long-term knee injury. The France forward was impressive during pre-season.
The possible arrival of a striker may have implications for Armando Broja’s future. The 22-year-old, who wants regular football, recently returned from a serious knee injury and started instead of Jackson against Everton. Broja’s long-term contract could allow Chelsea to sell him for a sizeable fee.
The rapid turnover of players means Chelsea may struggle to find obvious sales next month. The left-back Ian Maatsen was wanted by Burnley and West Ham last summer and has been out of favour this season. Trevoh Chalobah, the centre-back, is unlikely to leave if he fails to recover from a hamstring injury. Conor Gallagher’s contract runs out in 18 months and talks over a new deal have not started but Pochettino does not want to lose the midfielder. Noni Madueke, the winger, has barely featured this season.
Thirty-three players are listed in the men’s squad on Chelsea’s website. Although some are academy prospects, depth is not an issue for Pochettino. He has four senior players capable of playing at left-back, six centre-backs, two right-backs, six central midfielders, four wingers and two strikers. Two of his midfielders, Enzo Fernández and Moisés Caicedo, each cost more than £100m.
The conclusion may be drawn that Pochettino’s issue is with the quality at his disposal, rather than any specific holes in his squad.