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Which Striker Should Chelsea Sign?

If you ask any Chelsea fan, “what has been the most problematic position in the Chelsea team in recent years?” I’m sure striker would be ...

If you ask any Chelsea fan, “what has been the most problematic position in the Chelsea team in recent years?” I’m sure striker would be one of the first to come to mind. From Sidwell to Shevchenko, via paradoxical Torres and into the recent stays of Morata and Higuain, it‘s been a story of few ups and many downs upfront for Chelsea for quite some time. Even the success stories, namely the trend-bucking, sensational rise of Didier Drogba and Diego Costa’s 3-year reign of terror over defenders all over the country, as often is with Chelsea, didn’t come and go without their fair share of drama, dispute and disappointment.

Fast forward to 2020, and at first glance, we have been granted a gift from the gods: after 3 tough years on loan, where his goals, unlike which league his loan club or himself would be playing in the following season, were the only constant, Tammy Abraham has well and truly arrived on the big stage. With 12 in his first 20 league appearances for Chelsea already, he has established himself as an invaluable, first name on the team sheet attacker. So that’s it? The search for a new ST over, a new Drogba uncovered, the age-old No 9 curse broken. With Tammy in attack (and Tomori at the back), as the chant goes, surely Chelsea are going to win the Champions League? If only it were that simple…

For all of Tammy’s success, this is modern football, and the physical demands on the squad of a top team are huge. We are still in 3 competitions this season, and after a quiet summer serving the transfer ban, looking short on quality outside the starting XI in several positions. If we are to achieve our ambitions, secure a top 4 finish in the league, progress in the Champions League (or at least put Bayern to the sword across all 180 minutes of our 2 ties), and try to take our only realistic opportunity to win a trophy in the cup, we are going to need all 25 men in our squad to do it.

On the evidence of games where we’ve tried to (even slightly) rotate our usual starting XI, including Michy Batshuayi’s elite finishing clinic against Nottingham Forest, when it comes to relying on squad players to provide adequate quality and something different off the bench/coming in to rest or recover starters, not enough of those 25 are up to scratch. And up front probably more than anywhere, with Giroud clearly looking like a fish out of water under Lampard on and off the pitch and Batshuayi’s cameos going from bad to worse after some early season sparks, it’s a case of replace or regret. Both Giroud and Batshuayi have offers from other clubs and while these 6 moths have proven 3 strikers is probably too many, 1 is certainly not enough.

Which, of course, leaves the million-dollar question - who is the man we should go for? Well, to say the least, we have some options. Here are 3 players that have been linked to Chelsea as both realistic signings and improvements on our current situation (all stats from 2019/20):

Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa

Brazilian Serie A: 29 apps 25 goals 8 assists
Copa Libertadores: 12 apps 9 goals 1 assist
Foot: Left

From hero to zero and back to hero, in his relatively young career, Gabigol has gone through a lot. First arriving in Europe with Inter Milan, with the weight of huge promise and expectation on his shoulders, he crumbled, making just 10 appearances in total in Europe including just one during a season-long loan to Benfica, before returning to Brazil. Since then, he has found his feet again and flourished, scoring truckloads of goals for Flamengo and becoming one of the best players in the world outside Europe.

Grabbing 2 in 5 late minutes to complete a comeback win over River Plate in the Copa Libertadores final, Gabigol proved he has evolved into a striker that performs under pressure and scores key goals in times of need. Aside from goals, as a Brazilian, he also possesses the necessary skill and technique to link up with and play in other attackers, provide a passing outlet either by drifting into wide areas where he’s comfortable or holding up play and beat his man 1 on 1 in the dribble. However, how long it takes him to adapt to the increased physicality and pace of the premier league, especially without the opportunity for a pre-season that would help make the learning curve smoother, give him time to learn English properly and facilitate better linkup with teammates, is a big question mark. The risk in signing Gabigol comes not from his fairly modest price tag but from whether it will take him too long to bed in Europe at the second time of asking, that is if he manages to bed in at all.

Quality: 6/10
Likeliness: 4/10

Timo Werner

Bundesliga: 17 apps 18 goals 6 assists
Champions League: 6 apps 3 goals 1 assist
Age: 23
Foot: Right

Despite emerging onto the European stage back in the 16/17 season, when he and other breakout stars like Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita took RB Leipzig from Bundesliga newbies to the Champions League, this season has been Werner’s most impressive both at a glance of some of his Leipzig performances and from a statistical perspective. He has been full of goals all season for a free-scoring RB Leipzig team currently in 1st place in the Bundesliga, and there is no doubt in the right tactical setup and frame of mind he can pretty much score as many as he wants. However, there are some doubts about Werner’s mentality and ability to perform under pressure, vital qualities for a central ST at a top Premier League team. Despite his astronomical goal tally this season, to the eye test, and to a degree statistically, Werner has been disappointing on the biggest stage, namely key Champions League and major international games. 

Despite getting 3 in 6 in the CL this season, a group where the competition consisted of Zenit, Benfica and Lyon, all 3 to a degree out of form teams, to add to their questionable quality on paper, do not provide a particularly stern test. As a central striker, his linkup and holdup play has been decent, but if he’s not really managed to excel in that capacity in the Bundesliga, where defences are notoriously leaky and attackers are usually afforded a lot more time on the ball, his prospects in the Premier League do not look good. For me, Werner’s only real shot at replicating his phenomenal Bundesliga success in England would come in a role where he plays off a more physically imposing main striker, either in a 2 striker formation or starting out wide. Allowed to harness his pace down the channels, relieved of much of the goalscoring and technical responsibility of a lone striker, and with his chances in contesting opposition fullbacks physically looking a lot more promising than were he to face premier league centre backs, Werner could almost become our own, right-footed version, Salah. But if he is to prove his future remains upfront, an intriguing 2 legged CL contest against Jose’s rough, stubborn, physical Tottenham will provide the real acid test.

Quality: 8/10 (4/10 as a lone ST)
Likeliness: 5/10

Moussa Dembele

Ligue 1: 18 apps 10 goals 0 assists
Champions League: 5 apps 0 goals 0 assists

Ever since January 2017, when despite strong interest from both Chelsea and the player, a wildly excessive asking price of 40 million for Dembele, then of Celtic, put Chelsea off completing a trademark deadline day signing, he has been in the scope of Chelsea’s official interest. Unofficial links to Dembele date back even further when he impressed Jody Morris in a youth team game at U18 level. In terms of Dembele’s qualities on the pitch, the apparent claim that Frank Lampard sees similarities between Dembele and Drogba currently doing the rounds in the press may be less far-fetched than you think: at least, both are strikers that are comfortable holding up the ball and have the frame to bully defenders, while also possessing a spark of skill and technical magic on the ball. Most of all, both are impressively composed finishers. As far as lofty comparisons go, Dembele has yet to replicate his best Drogba impression at the sort of top-level and calibre of the game our legendary striker used to thrive at. 

His stats this season don’t really look like they warrant being put in that sort of bracket. However, he can to an extent be forgiven for failing to find his best form for a Lyon team in shambles on the pitch, off the pitch, in the dressing room and at the higher echelons of their management, and having said that not many strikers can produce goals so consistently most seasons to then call 10 in 18 underperforming. If the form isn’t quite there, the technical and physical attributes to succeed are. Likewise, on the road to completing his potential signing, a lot of steps have already been taken. Dembele may not be the cream of the crop yet, but given his current situation at Lyon, their tendency to sell key players, internal disputes, our previous scouting work on him and more, the sort of money we can get him for proportionate to his quality will at least ensure this will be a January deal where, for once, we don’t have to choose between good financial value and quality improvement to the squad. Not a showcase signing, but in all likelihood, a shrewd one.

Quality: 7/10
Likeliness: 8/10

Only time will tell who comes, who stays and who goes upfront for Chelsea this January…

Written by - Misha @MishaCFC
Edit by - Kristen @KristenPulisic

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