It’s a matter of days until the January transfer window SLAMS SHUT, and there are few Premier League sides crying out for investment more than Chelsea and Newcastle, who clash on Sunday in the FA Cup Fourth Round.
Rafa Benítez and Antonio Conte seem thoroughly frustrated by the parsimony of their often-absentee chairmen, and both have made some subtle – and some not so subtle – hints that cash injections are required if they’re to achieve their respective goals. Whatever those might be.
Roman Abramovich’s arrival in the Premier League may have heralded the dawn of the oligarch era, but with City, United, Liverpool and perhaps even Arsenal throwing cash around like confetti, his Chelsea now look something of a poor-mouth among the division’s top teams. Conte’s apparent ‘pursuit’ of players like Peter Crouch and Ashley Barnes is all the evidence you need of their reduced level of spending in comparison to their direct rivals.
Up at Newcastle, meanwhile, the #AshleyOut saga rolls on. The Magpies owner has been promising an increased transfer kitty to a succession of managers for what seems like years now, but with the club up for sale, such promises ring about as true as a Donald Trump statement on immigration. Given Ashley’s past reluctance to splash out on players, he’s unlikely to change that policy if he has one eye on the exit.
And so, for now at least, Rafa must make do with what he was.
Sadly, what he has is a squad largely comprised of mediocre imports and domestic players in the Too-Good-for-the-Championship-Not-Good-Enough-for-the-Premier-League bracket. Clearly, things won’t improve significantly on Tyneside unless there’s major reinvestment in the squad, which may not happen until Magic Mike eventually departs.
If he ever departs.
Whatever about Chelsea and Newcastle’s shared recruitment issues, they’re a world apart on the pitch. 27 points separate the two in the league, but as the cliché goes, cup football is different. The game is also rendered symbolic due to Rafa’s return to Stamford Bridge after his A4-page-strewn stint with the Blues in 2012/13.
So should we expect a surprise win for the Geordie outfit in London this weekend?
Anything’s possible, and at 7/1 to win in 90 minutes, you’d be tempted by the Toon. Especially in light of Chelsea’s recent struggles.
But it’s hard not to feel that there’s better value elsewhere, and that might just lie with the Blues on the (-1) handicap at 11/10. Either way. for both these teams and their managers, the main battle over the next few days is one that will largely take place off the pitch.