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The Harding Perspective – The Window of Opportunity

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On Tuesday a familiar sight will be plastered across television screens throughout England. Jim White, resplendent in a garish yellow tie, fuelled by Red Bull and Colombia's finest will be unleashed. That Scottish drawl injecting excitement into an obscure loan signing like no other: he exists for days like #DeadlineDayTM. Sky Sports' ability to commoditise anything should be commended; there are (real) people, the mouth breathers among us, who will be taking the day off work to bathe in the packaged excitement - all aboard the banter bus.

Chelsea have certainly left it late this season; the serenity of last summer a vestige of a simpler time. Signing a backup goalkeeper, a backup left-back, a third choice centre forward and "promoting the youth" (none of them are going to play...) hardly screams ambition. If you were of the opinion that Chelsea have not played very well in 2015, you were rightly worried. The belief that Chelsea needed to strengthen was compounded by a disappointing draw against Swansea and a humbling at the hands of Manchester City.

Pedro Rodríguez's arrival changed the mood somewhat. The Spanish international showed more on his debut than Juan Cuadrado or Mohamed Salah ever did in a Chelsea shirt. They are probably good footballers but never suited the Premier League or playing in a side like Chelsea. Was it a surprise that Pedro looked comfortable operating in limited space given the side we bought him from?

When evaluating potential signings we seemingly forget that the majority of sides Chelsea play against simply aim to restrict space. Teams sit deep, play compact and rarely open up. So signing wingers like Cuadrado or Salah, who openly thrive in counterattacking sides or where they have acres of space, was perplexing. I have seldom seen players whose first touch was so poor that their second touch frequently resulted in a tackle. We wish them well, but I highly doubt either will return to Chelsea and become established stars.

The John Stones saga looks to have ended with Everton firmly stating the defender is not being sold. Everton's moralistic stance is somewhat baffling, although it is being eaten up by the public. Good old Everton, everyone's favourite second team. We can ignore them cherry picking Mason Holgate from Barnsley in the same manner they did with John Stones. Are Everton currently being investigated for tapping up a kid as well? I guess that does not read as well. Should Holgate be castigated for wanting to move to a bigger club, earn more money and generally better himself? Or does that only apply when Chelsea want to buy someone?

Roberto Martinez's sanctimonious defiance is equally perplexing. This is a man who looked to advance his career in pursuit of a bigger stage and more money after relegating a team. I am sure the irony is not lost on those reading this, but Everton did bid for Romelu Lukaku last season. Do we need to have an investigation into that now? Or is there some other way our talented youngster ended up at Everton?

In any case Chelsea's hunt for a centre back continues. If the reported final bid of £38m for Stones is true, then Everton's ability to turn it down should tell you everything about how much money is currently flooding into the Premier League. You will still pay through the nose for a match ticket though - home and away.

Aymeric Laporte would be an outstanding alternative to John Stones. His €50m (~£36m) buyout clause works out slightly less than that reported final bid for the Everton centre back. At 6'2" the French Basque defender would be the perfect complement to Kurt Zouma. He has truly outstanding pace and it enables Athletic Bilbao to play the type of high line José Mourinho dreams about. Laporte reads the game wonderfully and when partnered with Zouma's power it seems a dream combination.

If Chelsea can secure Laporte then the only other real area of weakness is in central midfield. The Paul Pogba rumours continue to swirl, but the likelihood of that move happening seems to hinge on far too many variables. Barring a world record bid I do not see Pogba going anywhere. Juventus have already lost Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal this summer - can they afford to lose their star man?

The Cesc Fàbregas and Nemanja Matić partnership struggles in big games. City, in particular, bullied us at the Etihad this season and we need someone who can dish it out sitting next to Matić. Fàbregas, in particular, looks lost defensively and it leaves Matić with far too much work on his hands. Matić has not looked that assured this season, likely due to receiving little help. It goes without saying that Pogba's box-to-box ability and natural power combined with Matić would make a fearsome duo. Mourinho's pivot goes from being a weak point, and it most certainly is, to arguably our biggest strength.

In the event that Paul Pogba does not arrive my first alternate has already signed for Porto. Giannelli Imbula, eerily reminiscent of an early Michael Essien, would have been an incredible acquisition. Is it surprising that Porto have yet again signed well? At €20m (~ £15m) he represents phenomenal value in an inflated market. An upgrade on everyone in midfield not named Nemanja Matić; he would have given Chelsea the bite and power we have lacked for a long time.

Grzegorz Krychowiak, an ultra-aggressive ball winner, would add midfield steel but he lacks the drive and passing range of Pogba or Imbula. Ignacio Camacho would be a very interesting signing and someone who could sit with Matić and also dictate play. The Malaga midfielder is powerful and looks to advance the ball when in possession. I have often felt like he could easily step up into a bigger side and he would be immeasurably better than Ramires or Obi Mikel.

Perhaps the most unlikely and my holy grail would be to sign Marco Verratti. He is everything you could hope for in a metronomic deep lying midfielder, with the added bonus of being disgustingly snidey. Putting him next to Nemanja Matić would probably be an even better combination than Paul Pogba. However, I very much doubt PSG would even contemplate selling their star man.

With days to go Chelsea need a central midfielder, a centre back and arguably a centre forward. If Pogba is unlikely, the prospect of seeing Chelsea throw a hodgepodge of Matić, Fàbregas, Ramires and Obi Mikel together for a season is underwhelming. The John Stones deal is dead in the water and Aymeric Laporte seems far too sensible for Chelsea to actually consider it. If Ezequiel Garay is the answer, then I do not know the question. Would I take Charlie Austin at £15m? Yes, I would. No one else springs to mind.

It is likely to be an eventful close to the window for Chelsea. Tuesday will either see a lot of exuberant Chelsea fans or people worried that we look paper thin in key areas. We have, ultimately, had an entire summer to determine what it is that we need. I do not believe José Mourinho is happy with what he has, despite him declaring so again today. Time will tell if this is all too late, but it should be exciting one way or another.

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