Jose Mourinho has 13 days to save his season.
Before the transfer window closes, the Chelsea manager needs three signatures.
Mourinho could use the company and three most certainly isn't a crowd.
The number promises salvation, a chance for the impatient Portuguese to correct the club's failings and go where he's never gone before.
Three signings may allow Mourinho to go beyond three years at the same club. They promise victory, rather than a valedictory campaign for a restless manager.
He's got 13 days to fix what may not be broken, but is undoubtedly brittle. Two matches without victory do not constitute a crisis, but they do hint at uncertainty and Mourinho doesn't thrive in uncertain conditions.
He bolts. He runs into the welcoming arms of a new owner waving a chequebook. He hasn't stayed at a club for more than three full seasons in his storied career.
Mourinho is a master of anticipating stormy waters and bailing out before the vessel capsizes. So Chelsea's first port of call must be John Stones.
The Blues are ready to drop £30 million ($66m) for the 21-year-old England international. Everton expect nothing less than £35m.
Mourinho's persistent whining about the imbalanced market forcing wealthier clubs to pay a premium for English players is too ironic to deserve any sympathy.
The Blues made their beds years ago, spoiling the market by paying over the odds for the likes of Jon Obi Mikel because they could and others couldn't.
They've got to lie back, hand over the blank cheque and allow Everton's giggling executives to scribble in the zeroes.
Stones is an obvious, natural replacement for John Terry, who doesn't need to cash in his pension after one inept performance against the Premier League's most accomplished striker. He remains an indomitable force for Chelsea.
But Terry blows out 35 candles in December and Sergio Aguero will come around again, standing at his shoulder, goading him, haunting him; bypassing him.
Terry still has the superior pedigree, but Stones has the pace. He's also the domino. If he falls for Mourinho's charms, others will follow.
So far, Chelsea have managed only like-for-like replacements.
Apart from Baba Rahman filling in for the departed Filipe Luis, veterans Asmir Begovic and Radamel Falcao replaced Petr Cech and Didier Drogba.
It's not so much a Champions League charge as it is a scene from one of the Expendables sequels, with Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas coming in for Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris.
So Chelsea are out of options. It's time to put up or shut up. Pay Everton the exorbitant fee for Terry's long-term replacement and entice others to join him.
According to reports last night, Stones is expected to be the first of a dramatic £83m triple swoop that will also see Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann cross the Bridge.
The speculation appears outlandish, but no crazier than anyone who'd suggested two weeks ago that Chelsea would be five points behind City after two games.
It is the Blues' worst start since 1998 and stands in stark contrast to Mourinho's traditionally quick start out of the blocks.
Of the two forwards, Griezmann makes the most tactical sense. At 24, he's a favourable age for Mourinho and the Frenchman's ability to play on the right side allows him to potentially take the slot occupied by Ramires against Manchester City.
With one signing, Chelsea solve two problems - adding pace in the final third while allowing Ramires to drop back to support Nemanja Matic.
Such a move makes Cesc Fabregas the odd man out, but he's played that role for much of the calendar year, struggling to recapture his majestic form before Christmas.
Further forward, Lacazette has scored 51 goals in 139 appearances for Lyon and the 24-year-old shares Diego Costa's muscular attributes, but not his belligerence.
When Costa is not powering past defenders, his petulance prevails. He niggled, pushed and provoked at Man City, engaging in a tiresome feud with Fernandinho that was always petty and rarely productive.
Costa can be as sore as his hamstrings when his fitness fails him. He needs urgent back-up. Even if his legs hold up, his temperament may not.
Either way, Mourinho needs a centre back, a striker and a third forward to replace either Ramires or Fabregas in key games.
There's no promise of silverware if he indulges in a sudden spending spree.
But there's little chance of success if he doesn't.
This article was first published on Aug 19, 2015.
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