Winter forecast: What Chelsea can (and should) do before the January window

willian-frozen

The season, so far

To say that Chelsea have had a lackluster start to their season would be generous. The Premier League champions are 16th in the league, have been knocked out of the League Cup, have lost a staggering seven matches and have looked an altogether different team than the one which took the league by storm in 2014-2015.  A month ago it was said as a joke, but more and more people have legitimately asked the question about the West Londoners: Will they be relegated?

Though their form has perplexed fans and pundits alike, Chelsea are the same team (with almost all of the same players) which won the double in May. There’s a frustration building in Blues fans, and rightly so.  They’ve been witness to a slew of uncharacteristic performances marked by a lack of cohesion and intensity.  Commitment, 100% effort for 90 minutes, a belief in the team’s quality, confidence – each is normally a staple of a José Mourinho team.  But his Blues have been utterly devoid of these essential qualities, so far, this season.

SEE MORE: Chelsea’s best starting XI of all time.

Still, all is not lost for Roman Abramovich’s side.  They’ve shown signs of a revival, putting in solid performances against Stoke City in the League Cup and Premier League (despite losing both), and managing to earn an important victory in the Champions League against Dynamo Kiev. However, they’ve lost their last three Premier League matches and haven’t kept a clean sheet in any competition since Oct. 20.

Often, the international break can disrupt a club’s good run of form. Chelsea will be hoping that, after the hiatus, they’ll be able to discover theirs.

The road ahead

Chelsea’s goals should now be to advance as far as possible in this year’s (and to qualify for next year’s) Champions League competition, to make a good run in the FA Cup, and to determine which players can help the team to improve and which cannot.

Already, rumors have circulated claiming that José Mourinho is planning a major overhaul of his current squad come the January transfer window.  A leaky defense has seen Chelsea concede a whopping 25 goals – tied for third worst in the league, and it’s not yet December.  The Blues’ impotent attack is also up for major changes.  Diego Costa has scored just three goals in all competitions, and his on-field antics are quickly getting old, even for his own supporters.  Loïc Remy has scored two goals, Falcao, just one.

Chelsea have an important stretch of games to come before the new year: several fixtures they would normally be expected to win, but considering their dismal form of late, they will likely be difficult nail-biters.  Of the nine matches to come before the turn of the year, Chelsea play five at home.  These should be must-wins.  Nothing builds confidence like victories. and playing in front of the home fans is usually highly motivating.

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Between the dates that Chelsea host Norwich City and Porto, they need to turn a corner, start earning more positive results, and redevelop the resilient mentality they exhibited for most of last season. The midweek Champions League fixtures will force Mourinho to use more fringe players in his squad, and I’d argue that that is a good thing.

Ahead of this season, the Portuguese lamented that his title-winning side had lost steam towards the end of last year’s campaign. Fitness, he claimed, was going to be a worry for the first four matches this year.  It appears he was right.  Hazard, Costa and Matic all have admitted to returning to preseason training out of shape, and each has struggled for form.

It’s reasonable to assume that Chelsea will be able to get positive results against Norwich City and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and winning both would surely be a step in the right direction.  Still, it’s the match against Tottenham at White Hart Lane which will really test their mettle.  Spurs demolished the Blues 5-3 in the same fixture last season, and the Chelsea players will likely not have forgotten one of few hiccups on their way to the title.  Unlike Chelsea, Spurs have been in top form since that match, currently placed fifth, and boasting just the one loss they suffered on the opening day of this season.

SEE MORE: What Chelsea must do to finish fourth in the Premier League.

Sandwiched between home matches against Bournemouth, Sunderland and Watford is the Champions League fixture with Porto and a trip to Leicester City.  If Chelsea manage to beat Maccabi, they will worry less about the result against the Portuguese visitors and can perhaps focus more on the Premier League clash with Claudio Ranieri’s squad.  Finally, Chelsea go into the New Year with a match against Manchester United at Old Trafford.  This will be the ultimate test for Mourinho’s men, and a victory there could be absolutely crucial.

As bad as they’ve been, this season isn’t necessarily beyond repair.  Chelsea can find themselves in the Champions League places come the end of the season, but there need to be major changes if that is to happen.

Come January

If Chelsea haven’t markedly improved their standing in the league and their quality of play on the field, expect major changes at Stamford Bridge.  No, I don’t mean José Mourinho, as I fully expect him to see out this season as Chelsea manager; however, several high-profile stars could see their time in London cut short.

Diego Costa may have worn out his welcome in the blue of Chelsea.  An immediate fan favorite last season, Costa has failed to emulate the form he produced last year, getting off to a flying start and menacing defenders in all competitions.  It didn’t matter that his antics saw him banned for several matches as his scoring rate was so high.  While last season his behavior endeared him to many Chelsea fans, this season it has frustrated and bewildered most.  It has allegedly also motivated Mourinho to go into the market for another proven goalscorer come January.  Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain, and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette have all been highlighted as possible targets for the Premier League champions.

Eden Hazard, whose name is consistently attached to speculation and rumors of a transfer, may finally be lured to Real Madrid in the summer.  Even if he isn’t convinced, Chelsea would be silly to turn down a legitimate offer for the Belgian if it came.  Oscar is also someone whose future at Chelsea may be coming to an end.  Juventus has long been said to have an interest in the diminutive Brazilian midfielder, and Chelsea may look to fund the purchase of other players with his sale.

MORE FORECASTS: Arsenal | Everton | Liverpool | Manchester United | Norwich | Spurs.

Papy Djilobodji, a last minute purchase this summer to shore up the defense, is rumored to be on his way to Besiktas, having played just one minute in a 4-0 League Cup defeat of Walsall.  This could motivate the acquisition of another central defender as Chelsea’s defense has been poor this season.

Chelsea will most likely target players in many positions, as a forward, central midfielder and central defender are crucial.  There may also be loan moves secured for players like Ruben Loftus Cheek, who has failed to see the first team time many thought he deserved.

It’s rarely been noted, but Chelsea have been severely hampered by the injury spells of Thibaut Courtois and, more recently, Branislav Ivanovic.  Both have were crucial players in Mourinho’s title-winning side of last season, and their return to fitness could reinvigorate the team.

Chelsea have an important run of fixtures between now and Jan. 1.  They can make marked improvements to their league position, cement their place in the Champions League Round of 16 and, most importantly, begin to rebuild the confidence and belief necessary for this team to finish in the top four come season’s end.

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