By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Chelsea have placed Theo Walcott, Willian and Miralem Pjanic on their shortlist as they step up plans to replace Liverpool-bound Daniel Sturridge, Goal.com has learned.
The European champions want to sign a proven wideman to allow Rafael Benitez to rotate his attacking players.
Chelsea remain in pole position to sign Falcao from Atletico Madrid – although he might not join until next summer – but they also want a versatile attacker who can play anywhere across the front three.
Sources have told Goal.com that the Londoners have firm interest in Arsenal contract rebel Walcott, Shakhtar Donetsk forward Willian and Roma’s Pjanic.
Sturridge wants to quit Stamford Bridge and is in talks to move to Liverpool next month for a fee of around £12 million.
Walcott would prefer to stay in London if he cannot agree new terms with Arsenal, although Arsene Wenger insisted on Thursday that the England international will not be sold in the forthcoming window.
Willian, the Brazilian winger who caused Chelsea such problems in the Champions League group stages, remains on the radar of owner Roman Abramovich after a €25m bid (£20m) was rejected by Shakhtar in the summer.
Willian issued what was effectively a come-and-get-me plea this week, saying he wants to quit the Ukraine club and play in a more glamorous league.
“If I tell you that I was happy [the Chelsea move fell through], I would be lying,” Willian was quoted on Friday as saying. “The club knows that I want to leave, everyone knows that. The president has told me that he’ll let me go for €30m and my intention is to sign for a big club.”
Chelsea’s other principal target is Pjanic, the 22-year-old Bosnian who plays wide right for Roma and began the season on the bench but has recently been in excellent form.
Pjanic was the subject of strong interest from Tottenham in the summer but Roma have high hopes for the 2011 signing and it will take an offer beyond €15m (£12.2m) to capture him.
One player who seems destined to eventually wear a Chelsea shirt is the prolific Colombian Falcao, scorer of 17 league goals already this season, second in the Spanish league only to Lionel Messi, who has scored 25.
As revealed by Goal.com in November, Chelsea have already opened talks with Atletico Madrid about paying the £48m release clause in the striker’s contract.
A deal to take the centre-forward to Stamford Bridge is close to being secured after Chelsea offered what sources say is a “staggering” salary to the 26-year-old.
But the timing of the possible move has yet to be decided and Falcao could stay in Spain until the end of the season rather than move next month.