Such a plethora of talent has not existed in residence at Stamford Bridge since the reign of Jose Mourinho. New manager Roberto Di Matteo has an embarrassment of attacking riches with the precocious Eden Hazard already forming promising understandings with Juan Mata and a rejuvenated Fernando Torres. The substitutes bench is, once more, enriched with fine talent; Oscar and Victor Moses unable even to break through yet. However, this current incarnation of Chelsea are missing only what made that hallowed incarnation so good: a defensive midfielder capable of offsetting such scintillating attacking play.
At the hub of the great Chelsea outfits of yore was Claude Makelele, a player so adept at screening a defence and providing insurance for more attack-minded midfielders that the role has become eponymous in his honour. It is now the one piece of the jigsaw that Roberto Di Matteo must find to allow this current crop to really challenge the duopoly of Manchester City and United.
Thus far, John Obi Mikel has attempted to fulfill the role. But, for a player so feverishly sought after in the spring of 2005, Mikel now casts a rather forlorn figure in the Chelsea midfield. Many have questioned his appetite for true defensive graft, as well as his distribution of the ball from a base position. Increasingly, Mikel has come to look cumbersome and abject, ambling around the midfield with little intensity nor dynamism. With one upgrade, at this position, Chelsea could transcend mere top four consideration into a title race once again.
Employing a system that encourages the attacking fluidity of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard as well as Fernando Torres, it is paramount that Chelsea can offset such positivity with a mobile and tenacious stopper in midfield. It would appear that the West London side are at their best when countering opponents with searing pace and ingenuity; a tactic that can become even more deadly, even more exciting and even more effective with the successful implementation of a legitimate ball winner. By winning the ball back more regularly, and in more intelligent and devastating positions on the field, Chelsea can refine and exacerbate their greatest strength.
So, what options does Di Matteo have? Michael Essien has morphed somewhat into the Forgotten Man at Stamford Bridge amid another Roman summer of spending. However, on the comeback trail following cruciate ligament damage, Essien has yet to feature heavily under the Italian, leading many to question his future at the club. Regardless, similar accusations of diminishing performance have surrounded Essien, who has failed to reach the heights that he did under Mourinho.
The transfer market may provide Chelsea with what they are looking for. Rennes' midfield enforcer, Yann M'Vila, remains on the brink of a transfer, as he seems to have done for nearly two years. With Tottenham newly-enriched following the move of Luka Modric, Chelsea will have to really compete if they wish to secure his services, however, and the majority feel that he ultimately would not be worth an inflated transfer fee in excess of 15million pounds.
Other potential targets who would transform Chelsea into genuine Title threats include PSV Eindhoven's supreme midfield harness Kevin Strootman, feisty Cagliari battler Radja Nainggolan and Manchester City bulldog Nigel De Jong. However, with PSV reticent to sell their top players in a heated Eredivisie Title battle, and Manchester City largely unwilling to do business with such close rivals, Chelsea may find it harder than in the past to attract that killer signing.
The one player who would, above any other, instantaneously ignite Chelsea into a force to be feared and reckoned with is Cheick Tiote. With an abundance of pace, a plenitude of strength and the requisite flair to both break up and initiate attacks, the Newcastle midfield maestro is everything that Chelsea lack. Proven as a competent midfield destroyer, as well as a ferocious attacking force, Tiote is the antidote to Di Matteo's holding midfield conundrum; possessing the mobility and passion that Mikel never had, and the intoxicating effect that Essien displayed in his prime, Tiote is the man who can bring domestic glory back to the Bridge.