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Chelsea's answers lie closer to home

TEAMtalk guest blogger Ross Dunbar believes Chelsea might not require a huge summer transfer budget to get back amongst the best.

Last Updated: 01/03/13 at 14:58 Post Comment

Kevin de Bruyne: One of Chelsea's on loan starlets

Kevin de Bruyne: One of Chelsea's on loan starlets

Chelsea do not need to look far to see former heavyweights entering an identity crisis.

Across the capital, Arsenal are verging on eight years without a trophy, whilst Liverpool have battled with instability and mismanagement for decades. The Anfield regulars are growing to their new-found approach - and the short-term mindset looks to dragging the Blues towards a matching predicament.

A stale performance against a vastly-superior Manchester City on Sunday afternoon highlighted the lengths Rafael Benitez's side have to go to bridge the gap in the top four. Some players looked fatigued, some complacent - perhaps including the manager - and others out-of-their-depth. Benitez's short-term stay has failed to strike a chord with the supporters and owner Roman Abramovich will be on the hunt for the 11th manager in his custodianship of the Blues.

Many will point to the considerable expenditure of the Manchester club for the sizeable gulf between the two, but even with the resources used at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have made some rash investments in recent seasons. Hope lies on the astute selection of a new manager to lead the transition to a fresh vision and style for the club with a fairly imbalanced squad at his disposal.

Although the solution to their problems might lie closer to home - rather than inside Ambramovich's brash wallet.

Kevin de Bruyne, the 21-year-old Belgian midfielder, is one of 10 first-team players plying their trade across Europe on-loan, gaining vital experience and competing against sides far superior to Chelsea's domestic opponents week-in, week-out.

It might look like a sensible model for player development - but the London side really could benefit from this pool of talent in his options. De Bruyne's proficient technique has seen him impress in the German top-flight for mid-table Werder Bremen. His fervour and energy has seen star prominently in an advanced 'number eight' position, bringing a different dimension to Werder's attacking style and playing the leading role in executing cross-pitch counter-attacks. There are signs of an old-fashioned British winger in his direct running with the ball from deeper positions, complementing a superb vision in possession and effective runs late into the penalty box - aiding to his six league goals this term, including one against Bayern on Saturday.

Belgium has seen a 'Golden Generation' emerge on to a continental platform with the likes of Eden Hazard coming to the fore in recent years. Hazard inspired Lille to a historic Ligue 1 triumph in the lead-up to his move across the English Channel and has brought immense quality to the Premier League.

Chelsea hold some strong aces in this Belgian crop with a trio of talented young players, including De Bruyne, contracted to the club but who are impressing in their respective loan stints in England and Europe.

Leading the line at West Bromwich Albion under the guidance of ex-Blues assistant boss Steve Clarke, 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku has made a smooth transition to competitive EPL football this season. Twelve goals to his name in 25 appearances (12 starts) is a solid ratio for the young Belgian who had a rapid rise to stardom with Anderlecht, making his debut at 16. While Fernando Torres has toiled in London, and the likes of Victor Moses not representing value for money at the Blues, Lukaku has honed various raw characteristics to his game: his power, heading abilities and hold-up play in a fluid 4-2-3-1 composition. A role held and played effectively by Didier Drogba during Chelsea's recent success, Lukaku looks a carbon-copy frontman for the Premier League side to build around.

Elsewhere, Thibaut Courtois might have been making a relative step-down to play more first-team games - but the goalkeeper had the challenge of filling the shoes of now Manchester United keeper David de Gea at Atletico Madrid. The Spaniards have conceded only 21 goals with Courtois between the sticks and keeping 12 clean sheets this season. This is his second season in Spain after picking up 16 league blanks last term, including a further eight in their UEFA Europa League triumph. He might be just 20 but Courtois has built up strong experience, firstly, with Genk in Belgium, before his loan move to Madrid. In that time, the keeper has won two European honours and made over 50 appearances in La Liga, to add to his domestic success in his homeland.

All in all, Benitez is watching north of 40m euros worth of talent from Belgium impress in the three biggest leagues in the world - and with established clubs working to a degree of domestic expectation. That is in addition to a wrath of other Chelsea players looking for more game-time away from Stamford Bridge.

Michael Essien is on a short-term deal at Real Madrid, the highly-rated Lucas Piazon is at Malaga, whilst recent Brazilian signing Wallace is with Fluminense and Dutchman Jeffrey Bruma is at Hamburg respectively. Meanwhile, young English midfielder Josh McEachran is helping Middlesbrough make a strong fight in the Championship.

As for Patrick van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta, the move to provincial Eredivisie club Vitesse Arnhem looked a stable environment to enhance their game - but both are splitting the dominant parties in Dutch football at the top of the table and still have a realistic chance of winning the championship in May.

The Financial Fair Play regulations implemented by Europe's governing body UEFA and the recent changes to the domestic governance model has forced England's strongest clubs into a state of flux following a culture of mis-spending and relying on one-man ownership models to plough money into the transfer kitty.

Chelsea are one of the sides that have essentially bought success over the last decade and given their consolidation at the top of the English game, the transition from high-spending, to gradual growth and sustainability might be uncomfortable for the club's hierarchy.

On the evidence of their contracted stars making the grade in Europe, the Blues might not need a lavish transfer budget in the summer - and need a patient belief in astutely growing the club to compete with commercially-stronger, better-supported clubs that are strangling the competitive life out of the English game.

You can follow Ross on Twitter.

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