Usually at this point, roughly two weeks into January, transfer rumors are starting to fly with some level of truth behind them. It has been rare since Covid that clubs do so much business in January but Chelsea and the Blues are still always linked to someone by a reputable source.
Instead, there are crickets. Much of the talk about Chelsea has centered around the players’ ability to negotiate the last six months of their contracts with other clubs. There are still the usual rumors that only surface when the Blues are set to play for another team and are related to that team’s player, but those are all too weak to be taken seriously.
All signs point towards a quiet January. That is, of course, unless Chelsea lets the recall clauses fly all over the pyramid.
Part of this is the short-term calculus that Chelsea is currently going through. Injuries pile up and when one depth crisis ends, another begins. It is clear that Thomas Tuchel prefers and trusts some players over others, leaving little opportunity for outsiders to come in and have a chance.
Midfield is the current weak area and the Blues have two midfielders starting week and week with other Premier League clubs. Conor Gallagher is arguably the current Premier League player of the season as he is single-handedly moving away from Crystal Palace. Meanwhile, Billy Gilmore is fast becoming a hub in Norwich played by Dean Smith as they look to save themselves.
But getting either of them back can be difficult. Both are currently playing for their clubs. Moreover, even if they are called up to Chelsea, they will only play with the Blues until Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante find fitness. The only caveat to this is that Tuchel could change to a three-man midfielder, but that could make things more complicated if Mason Mount or Kai Havertz start counting their midfielders.
Then there is the left wing mode. Ben Chilwell could return, but it’s too soon to make that diagnosis. Marcos Alonso and various others could fill the spot, but since Chilwell’s injury the Blues have struggled defensively (not a single clean sheet since their exit against Juventus). Signing would be a long-term solution to a short-term problem, especially with Ian Matsen doing well on loan.
If the Blues do sign, Matsen is unlikely to have a place at Chelsea going forward. His way is closed like many others, he will leave. And that would be a shame considering what he’s currently doing in the tournament. Is it just a tournament? Sure, but Mason Mount and Rhys James had little trouble making the transition from the Championship to the Champions League. Cobham has proven skeptics wrong time and time again, yet they must be constantly reminded.
But for any of these players, is it better to get a chance at Chelsea or stay in place for another six months of playing? There is no easy answer. Six months will not succeed or end your career, and Chelsea can certainly use these players. At the same time, they can develop faster with the guaranteed playing time they have elsewhere.
With no transfer rumors, the idea of a recall (or two or three) seems more likely now than ever. Chelsea had done it before with Nathan Ake before he used it just barely weird. Gallagher was also withdrawn from one championship loan mid-season only to be placed on another championship loan in the same season. There is precedent for such moves. And perhaps Chelsea will think of the old rules of the game this window rather than stopping the transfer gap that hasn’t worked out in recent memory.