Chelsea’s January striker search has become potentially even more intriguing and important as Nicolas Jackson, as expected, was today called up by Senegal for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, which will start in two weeks. Should the defending champions — including ex-Chelsea players Édouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly — reach the final, Jackson wouldn’t be back until after February 11.
This tournament was supposed to take place last summer (thus the 2023 moniker), but just like with the 2021 edition, got pushed back to its more familiar, and thus more incongruous point in the European football season. CAF have been trying to hold these biennial things in the summer precisely to avoid these conflicts, but have only managed to do so with the 2019 edition, because — newsflash! — it generally gets very hot in the summer. Shocking.
Jackson’s the only player we will be losing for the monthlong tournament, but his absence creates a conundrum. Despite his frequent profligacy in front of goal, he leads the team with eight goals, while his link-up and hold-up play is often crucial to our attacking movements.
Armando Broja is the nominal backup, but he seems to be still affected by the ACL injury he suffered just a year ago. Recovery from those things can stretch on for multiple seasons. Christopher Nkunku has returned from his own knee injury recently, but he’s still building up match fitness and his ideal role also may not be at center forward but rather in support of one. Youngster Deivid Washington is the only other striker to get minutes so far this season, but he’s yet to be trusted in any situation of consequence.
Chelsea have been linked with a couple big-money transfers for January, including Victor Osimhen and Ivan Toney, but those are more speculative than realistic at this moment.
It’s unclear exactly when Jackson will join up with the Senegal squad, but he should be still with us tomorrow. After that we only have the FA Cup (third round) the first weekend of January (6th), but Jackson will surely be gone by the time we have the League Cup semifinal (first leg) against Middlesbrough on the 9th. League games after that include Fulham (H), Liverpool (A), Wolves (H), Crystal Palace (A). He might be back for Manchester City away on February 17.
All that said, good luck, Nico (and Édou and K2)!