Chelsea sit in an awkward position as the January transfer window approaches. After a terrific start, the Blues have been bumped from the Champions League and slid to third in the Premier League. That makes it tough to develop a transfer strategy.
Since the amount of available talent in January is extremely limited compared to the summer window, the prices tend to rise as numerous clubs battle for the top available players. Chelsea must be confident they can contend before seeking impact moves next month.
Of course, there's reason for at least some optimism at Stamford Bridge, even though the club is sitting 10 points behind Manchester United. The Blues' eight-match unbeaten run to start the campaign is an example of what they are capable of when in form.
"I'm not worried about the distance. It's important we win [against Sunderland on Saturday] so we are close, but all we can do is think about one game at a time. We have to improve the team and be mentally strong enough to compete in the second part of the league."
As long as owner Roman Abramovich agrees, Chelsea will likely be active during January in hopes of making at least a few upgrades to the squad.
The club's most pressing need is another striker. Even though Fernando Torres has enjoyed a sudden resurgence, scoring four goals over the past two matches, the Blues have been far too reliant on him over the past few seasons.
When he's in form, there's nothing wrong with that because he can score goals at an eye-popping pace. But his extended slumps should worry Benitez and Co. enough to seek out another option up top. Depth is rarely a bad thing.
Jason Burt of The Telegraph reports Chelsea are keeping tabs on several high-profile options as January approaches. He lists Radamel Falcao, Gonzalo Higuain and Demba Ba as the three biggest names on the Blues' radar.
All three are extremely intriguing options from a fan's perspective.
Falcao has become a worldwide sensation thanks to his tremendous play with Atletico Madrid, Higuain continues to impress with Real Madrid despite an inconsistent role, and Ba has proven his ability to excel in the Premier League with Newcastle United.
Landing any of them will be easier said than done, however. It's still unclear how their clubs feel about letting them go and, even if they end up available, there will be incredibly fierce competition for strikers of their caliber.
The Blues should continue to track all three of those superstars, but may end up having to set their aim a little lower as January progresses. It all comes down to how the market sets up.
Chelsea's other need is in the midfield, especially now that Oriol Romeu is expected to miss six months after suffering a knee injury against Sunderland.
Paulinho would be an ideal fit, and Chelsea continues to show interest according to Dan Silver of the Daily Mirror. The midfielder's current club, Corinthians in Brazil, has not showing a willingness to let him go, though.
As always, that can change once the window officially opens and money starts getting thrown around. Clubs willing to sell don't want to show their respective hands too early and risk not getting maximum return for their players.
The Blues should make a strong push for Paulinho in January and hope Corinthians have a change of heart. He would make an immediate impact in the middle.
If Chelsea come out of January with an upgrade at striker and an additional midfielder to provide some depth and lessen the blow of Romeu's absence, the window will be a success.
Whether or not it will be enough to chase down United in the second half is debatable, but Benitez believes it's possible.
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