Chelsea have historically made more eye-popping moves in the January transfer window than any other top Premier League club. Of course this season, the Blues are closer to the relegation fight than to even battling for a Europa League position, so perhaps they need to shop like every other side fearful of relegation. The stakes are higher than ever, and while Aston Villa has been cut adrift and will almost certainly be relegated, the other sides near the bottom of the table are all shopping in January.
Still, the Blues curious move to bring in Alexandre Pato seems more desperate than the product of a carefully thought out long-term strategy. Pato is reportedly close to joining Chelsea on loan for six months from Corinthians. The Brazilian striker was a prodigy thought by many to be the best South American player in his age group around the time of the 2008 Olympic tournament in Beijing, and he enjoyed two very good seasons at Milan before he turned 21. However, injuries which had popped up in the 2009-10 season began to dog Pato, and by 2013 he had flamed out of Serie A and was back in Brazil.
Since Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka left the Blues for China in 2012, Chelsea has rotated through strikers, often finding cheap options on the market that end up flaming out. Pato very well could fit this established pattern of desperate acquisitions designed to enhance squad depth. When Chelsea met the release clause for Demba Ba in Jan. 2013, six months after Drogba left the club, the move seemed to do more to hurt Newcastle, who were fighting a battle on multiple fronts that season because they were competing in Europa League, than it did to help the Blues.
Ba’s single moment of Chelsea glory may have been as the recipient of Steven Gerrard’s unfortunate slip in the famous 2-0 Blues win at Anfield in April 2014. That summer Ba was quietly moved out and replaced by Loic Rémy ,who ironically had been lined up to replace him at Newcastle before Queens Park Rangers swooped in and hijacked the deal.
Rémy‘s contributions at Chelsea have proven to be minimal save an important goal against Manchester City last season in a clash between title contenders. Pato’s addition probably means the French striker will leave Chelsea having done little in the 18 months he was on the squad.
Chelsea’s revolving door around strikers is something that a team generally contending for high honors should avoid. However, in this day of teams playing with a single striker in a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation, who absent injury or long-term suspension gets the bulk of games and minutes, incentive for good forwards to sign with clubs like Chelsea are minimal. Additionally, with so much money tied up with other potential attacking players, center forward has become more and more a specialty position, like a goalkeeper. Barring an injury, you can afford to cut costs by employing a relatively inexpensive backup. In a pinch, top teams often place wingers in the striker position for a match or two, as has been tried by Chelsea with Eden Hazard, Arsenal with Theo Walcott and last season by Manchester City with James Milner.
Where this philosophy, which I believe Chelsea has employed, fails is that the Blues leading striker is Diego Costa, a volatile player who constantly battles suspension demons. With Costa battling injury, potential suspensions and indifferent form this season, Chelsea has been hurt by the lack of a reliable second striker.
In Sunday’s 1-0 win at the Emirates Stadium against 10-man Arsenal, Costa’s injuries flared up and he was subbed off early in the second half. Rémy was inserted in the side, and for the rest of the match ,it can be argued that Chelsea looked like the team that was down a man.
This leads us back to Pato. The Brazilian, who is 26, has lost some of his pace thanks to injuries, but he still proves an agile option that can play in wide areas, unlike Ba or Rémy. Thus he may get more time on the pitch than either did. Additionally, bringing him in on loan isn’t as risky as an outright purchase, though the opportunity cost might be that Chelsea did not pursue the likes of Charlie Austin, who was available this transfer window for a small fee.
Pato coming to Chelsea appears a desperate move ,but this is far from a rosy time at Stamford Bridge, and he certainly could contribute to firing the side to mid-table safety.
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