The loss of Nicolas Anelka to injury, and the imminent departure of Didier Drogba to the African Nations Cup, stand to leave Carlo Ancelotti looking exposed, but not nearly as exposed as he will be should Chelsea buy a new player in January.
Ancelotti has made a bizarre bet with journalists that he will run naked around Chelsea's training ground at Cobham if he signs any new recruits during the January transfer window.
The unlikely forfeit came about after Ancelotti was questioned concerning his repeated claims that no new players will be joining Chelsea in January. The stance is inconsistent with what some other figures at the club have said, and would seem to be totally at odds with the club's successful bid to have their transfer ban frozen temporarily during the upcoming January window.
However Ancelotti is adamant the well-heeled residents of Cobham can safely look out of their windows over the coming weeks. Asked if he really meant it when he said he would not be buying in January, Ancelotti replied: "Yes. Absolutely no way."
He then agreed that he would do a forfeit if he broke his promise. Asked if he would run around the training ground in the nude, he replied: "Yes."
Ancelotti's categorical denial of any transfer activity is based on his confidence that young striker Daniel Sturridge can step up and perform in the first team. He is also worried about the effect new signings could have on the squad once all the first-team players are available again, when Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel return from the African Nations Cup at the start of February.
"If you have new players, maybe it's a problem in February or March. We don't need them in this moment," he said.
Ancelotti is placing his faith on the shoulders of Sturridge (below), 20, and his fellow striker Fabio Borini, a highly-rated 18-year-old Italian. With Drogba and Salomon Kalou leaving for the African Nations Cup after today's game with Birmingham, and Anelka out injured with a torn hamstring, Ancelotti is banking on Sturridge and Borini, two players who don't have a senior goal at Chelsea between them.
Sturridge has no goals in five appearances for the club. Last season, he scored four goals in 26 appearances for Manchester City. Borini has made six appearances for Chelsea this season and has yet to score.
Ancelotti's side will take a four-point lead at the top of the table to St Andrew's today, despite taking only five points from a possible 12 in their last four games. The Italian does not accept he is being reckless in relying on two such unproven strikers at such a key stage in the season.
"I have trust in Borini and Sturridge," he said. "They will have an opportunity in January to show their quality. The only problem is that they are young. We have to have courage to play them as they have a lot of quality. It's right to put them on the pitch and give them an opportunity. It's not a gamble. It would be a gamble if they didn't have any quality. But now they have to show they do."
Neither player has yet been convincing in the first team. Sturridge, whose uncle is former Derby striker Dean Sturridge, has struggled to cope with the weight of expectation that followed his move from Manchester City in the summer. He made a few cocky statements when he was unveiled, but soon questions were being asked at the club about his perceived lack of commitment.
Ancelotti said Sturridge has come through his crisis of confidence. "He had a problem at the start of the season because he had some injuries and he lost physical condition. Also, he lost his confidence in his chances," Ancelotti said.
"But he's had a month working very hard and has improved his physical condition and confidence. He played very well in that last game against West Ham and I'm sure he'll do very well in the future. He is very young, remember. He is 20 and has a lot of quality. He is English and can be a very good player for the future of Chelsea. For a young player, it's not easy to stay in competition with Drogba, with Anelka. You have to find your place and that's not easy. It is normal to take time to settle into a new club."
Borini, who arrived at Chelsea from Bologna two years ago, has also made little impression this season. Ancelotti however has faith in him, believing there are similarities with Milan veteran Filippo Inzaghi.
Ancelotti's desire to throw in Borini and Sturridge also reflects Chelsea's sensitivity to the claim that they have failed to bring through players from their own academy, despite the millions spent by sporting director Frank Arnesen on recruiting young talent.Reuse content