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Transfer Talk: Real, Barca battle for teen

Transfer Talk
 By Phil Lythell

Will Chelsea get a few late Christmas gifts in the January transfer window?

For most people in England, the festive season is a time for office parties, paper hats and eating your own body weight in chocolate. For football clubs, it marks not only the busiest time on the pitch but often an equally frantic time off of it with the imminent opening of the January transfer window.

Not every club decides to splash the cash midseason for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are performing well and don't want to upset the balance of the squad. Maybe the right targets simply aren't available. But in Chelsea's case, especially given Antonio Conte's many public gripes over his club's activity in the market during the summer, it can be assumed that the champions will attempt to be more successful when the opportunity to acquire players arrives on New Year's Day.

Conte clearly wants reinforcements to bolster a squad that is high in quality but shallow in depth. The real question is who are his main targets? Rumours linking Everton's Ross Barkley with a move to Stamford Bridge have arisen again following his aborted summer move. The problem is that he hasn't kicked a ball competitively since last season due to injury, casting doubt on how effective he might be for the Blues in the second half of the campaign. Barkley might be earmarked as one for the future but that probably won't help Conte this season.

In the aftermath of the 2-0 victory over Brighton on Boxing Day, the Chelsea boss spoke glowingly about Arturo Vidal, his former charge when he was manager of Juventus. The Chilean is a mainstay of the Bayern Munich midfield and, with 18 months of his contract yet to run, would be hard to prise away from the Allianz Arena. While clearly a top-class player, it would still be surprising if Chelsea did sign him not least as he turns 31 in May. With talk of Bayern valuing Vidal at about £50 million, that would be quite an outlay for Chelsea to spend on somebody in their fourth decade, particularly having lavished around £75m on midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater in the previous transfer window.

Could Chelsea be about to splash the cash on another midfielder in Arturo Vidal?

As in the summer, Chelsea's primary targets should be a striker and competition for Marcos Alonso at left wing-back. Although Alvaro Morata was secured, Conte's reservations over Michy Batshuayi means that another target man is required. Who that person is remains a mystery.

There have been murmurings about an offer for Leicester's Jamie Vardy, a proven Premier League goal scorer and one who would be eligible to play in the Champions League. But it would be a strange move for a player who currently starts every single game for Leicester to choose to effectively become a backup for Morata. Vardy rejected a move to Arsenal in summer 2016 to remain at the club where he made his name. A move away now seems just as unlikely, while Chelsea's interest is also curious considering the sizeable transfer fee required for a player over 30 years old.

As for the wing-back options, Chelsea might try to revive their pursuit of Juventus' Alex Sandro having failed to land the Brazilian in the summer. A high-class performer, his signing would arguably be a little harsh on Alonso, who has been a revelation since joining the Blues in August 2016. The Spaniard has his defensive limitations but has been sparkling going forward with his technical ability being particularly impressive. Sandro, however, would command an exorbitant price north of £50m and such a fee would suggest he would quickly become first choice. Except, of course, in the Champions League, where he would be cup-tied due to his involvement already this season with Juventus.

If Chelsea were to sign Sandro, however, it would send a significant message. With Manchester United also reportedly interested in him, beating a big-spending rival to his signature would be a feather in the Londoners' cap. It would also demonstrate that Chelsea are not solely focused on adding numbers to their squad but on actively improving their first team. That in turn would tell all the stars in the dressing room that nobody's future was entirely safe even if they have excelled for the club in the recent past.

Looking back at Chelsea's chequered record in the transfer market over the past few seasons, there are no guarantees that anyone will be secured. Equally, they might reprise their January signing successes of Nemanja Matic, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill, all of whom became Premier League champions with three of them also part of the club's most glorious moment in the 2012 Champions League campaign. Nothing can be taken for granted where player purchases are concerned but Conte will be hoping his bosses surprise him with some welcome late Christmas presents.

Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.


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