Uncharacteristically, Chelsea have now conceded 30 goals in 23 Premier League games this
season, with the highest percentage of goals conceded (30%!) in the last 10 minutes. Ther
is clear indication that Chelsea are struggling when it comes to seeing out a game,
regardless of whether they are holding on for a win or settling for a draw. With only 5
Premier League Clean Sheets this season, much of the criticism has gone towards Chelsea’s
relatively inexperienced back line, who can justifiably be earmarked as inconsistent while
they are still getting used to playing alongside each other. This is also down to Lampard’s
heavy rotation of the back 4 (and sometimes back 3), it seems that he’s still yet to figure out
his ideal back line.

It is now coming to surface that Chelsea’s midfield is highly imbalanced. Well-built for
countering the press but often struggle in both creativity when needing to score goals and
protecting the defence when trying not to concede at the other end. Below we will
particularly focus on the midfield’s inability to protect the defence.

“Central Defensive Midfielder is the first Defender on your team” – Johan Cruyff

It is a rare thing in modern football to see a truly successful team without a central
defensive midfielder protecting the back line. Think Makelele (Chelsea), think Fernandinho
(Man City), think Busquets (Barcelona), think Casimeiro (Real Madrid), think Fabinho
(Liverpool), think Cambiasso (Inter), think N’Golo Kante (who?), think the great John Obi
Mikel. Somebody who, if still in his prime, would surely be one of the first names on the
team sheet this season.

Chelsea have often found themselves in a position where they are not creating enough
chances. If this is the case then you do what you can to protect your lead. Not necessarily go
full Mourinho, but do what is needed to secure the result.
On 6 occasions this season, Chelsea have dropped points from a winning position through
inability to see the game out. While criticism of the defence is fair, there aren’t many
defences (if any) that would not be subject to similar scrutiny if they were not adequately
protected by the midfield in front of them too. The truth is that Chelsea’s defence is crying
out for a Central Defensive Midfielder whose primary focus is protecting the back 4 and
shielding the opposition attack. In this article let’s focus on the players Chelsea currently
have available.

Jorginho:
Jorginho has often been of split opinion within the Chelsea fanbase. He undoubtably has
many more fans in his corner this season than his debut season under Sarri, with Lampard
insisting on him playing a more expressive & expansive role. There are without doubt, many
positives he does bring to the team such as; his leadership qualities, passing, supplementing
a smoother transition from defence to attack & his general influence on Chelsea maintaining
sustained possession through long periods of the game. These traits have come to fruition
on a number of occasions and been a large influence on some of Chelsea’s results thisseason. Most recently Frank Lampard’s tactical masterstroke in Chelsea’s 2-1 win against
Arsenal, subbing Jorginho on for Emerson in the first half whilst Chelsea were 1-0 down,
with Jorginho completely changing the dynamic of the remainder of the game.

Credit: Bleacher Report

NONETHELESS there’s an argument to be made that for all Jorginho’s influence in benefiting
Chelsea going forward, his defensive contribution, particularly in the latter stages of the
second half, has often led to Chelsea’s fragility in closing out games. Jorginho’s statistical
numbers are generally decent, averaging 2.2 tackles & 2.1 interceptions per game in the
Premier League this season (higher than Manchester City’s Rodri & Liverpool’s Fabinho).
Unfortunately, stats rarely give the full context.

Jorginho has been substituted off the field more than any other central midfielder this
season. Surely you’d think that a player with such leadership quality required to help the
team keep a calm head and see out the game? Here’s where Jorginho particularly struggles:

  • Discipline & Concentration – As he tires, not only does Jorginho’s influence on the
    games proceedings decrease rapidly, he is prone to giving the ball away in
    threatening areas. This isn’t necessarily uncommon for many players but it’s often
    his reaction that weakens Chelsea’s standing. After loss of possession, he relentlessly
    presses in frustration, trying to regain possession. This usually leaves 1 of 2
    scenarios. 1) a huge gap between Chelsea’s midfield & defence for the opposition to
    exploit or 2) a foul and a free kick to the opposition in a dangerous set-piece area (of
    which we all Chelsea’s vulnerability). This level of indiscipline is unnecessary and
    exactly what a defensive line do NOT need when trying to see out a game. He also
    leads the Premier League with a total of 8 yellow cards this season.
  • Defensive cover, positioning & tracking back – His ineffectiveness against opposition
    counter attacks is a problem. How many times have we seen the image of a direct
    pass cutting straight through the midfield with Jorginho chasing hopelessly as the
    opposition pull further and further away? It’s no secret that Jorginho isn’t the
    quickest of players, particularly after famously making referee Michael Oliver look
    like Usain Bolt in the 1-2 loss against Liverpool earlier this season. When speed isn’t
    of essence, a top CDM relies on positioning over pace. I don’t imagine the likes of
    Busquets, Makelele or Cambiasso being much quicker than Jorginho, but they have a
    consistent knack of being in the right place at the right time. I’m personally yet to
    link Jorginho with this same feeling of comfort when in the defensive phase (there is
    a Chelsea midfielder who definitely does have this so called knack – we’ll discuss him
    later).
  • Physical Presence – Graham Souness recently criticised Chelsea’s midfield,
    commenting that he’d be “licking his lips” at the prospect of coming up against a
    midfield of Kovacic & Jorginho. For all their technical ability, Chelsea midfielders
    certainly lack the ability to bully attackers and make them second guess whether it’s
    worth the one on one battle with them. How many times have you looked at
    Chelsea’s midfield and referenced them as a wall? Opposition teams come to
    Stamford Bridge knowing that they won’t get knocked around and that wall is very
    much capable of being broken through. A feeling non existent in the days of

Makelele & Michael Essien in particular. I’m sure the back 4 would feel much more
comfortable with a physical player protecting their backline while holding on to a
lead. The reality is that Jorginho has won a mere 46% of his ground duels & measly
30% of his aerial duels.

There could me capacity for overlooking some of these defensive issues if Jorginho in his
“Regista” role were putting up Pirlo-esque numbers. But with only 2 Premier League assists
this season and an average of 0.8 Key Passes per game (28 th in the league), one can’t help
but ponder whether the benefits of his footballing style truly outweigh the negatives
enough for Chelsea reap the rewards. The truth is that he’s relatively ineffective in games
where teams play a low block against Chelsea, and relies on opposition to press for him to
truly stand out, the same can be said for Mateo Kovacic (although very different players
stylistically). Perhaps it would be more beneficial to have a more defensively focused CDM
(adding some physicality and steel) to legitimately protect the back 4 and break up counter
attacks, allow a more creative central midfielder (as one of the two CM’s above the CDM) to
occupy the final third with enhanced focus on chance creation? Something that Chelsea are
definitely lacking this season, most recently exhibited against Newcastle in our 0-1 loss this
past weekend. Although the need for a creative central midfielder is a conversation for
another day.

I am not saying that Jorginho should necessarily be dropped, but a defensively solid plan B
(if not already plan A) needs to be established in order to mitigate opposition defences.
Lampard seemingly already recognises Jorginho’s habit of fading in matches yet has not
really established how to tighten up the midfield. Given that there are no current concrete
deals in place for a CDM in the January transfer window, let’s assess Chelsea’s available
resources.

Recalling Tiémoué Bakayoko
Just Kidding.

Reece James:
I’m sure that everybody would love to see this but Reece James is quickly becoming one of
Chelsea’s most consistent attacking routes. His claim of Azpilicueta’s right back place is
complete. With crosses compared to Beckham, I’m sure all Chelsea fans would not settle for
anything less than Reece James in that position, now that they’ve had a taste.

Credit: Kristen

Mateo Kovacic:
Fantastic dribbler, statistically the best dribbler in the league that isn’t a winger or wide
player and arguably Chelsea’s best midfielder this season. Opposition press is no issue for
him and there are fewer more useful players when transitioning from defence to attack.
Unfortunately he doesn’t have the natural defensive instincts for this position. His attacking
talents far outweigh his defensive talents and ultimately he’s required further up the pitch.
With the correct guidance, he’s going to the top. He absolutely should not be focusing on anything else before polishing his final ball & finishing. If he can add a ruthless edge to his
game then Chelsea have a real attacking threat in their ranks.

N’golo Kante:
Often heralded by many as the “best Defensive Midfielder in the world”, but is Kante really
a defensive midfielder?

N’golo Kante’s best position is something that has been in debate ever since Sarri started him at RCM at the beginning of his Chelsea tenure. Sarri was often criticised by many for playing Jorginho as the CDM ahead of Kante. Yet fast forward 1.5 seasons and Frank Lampard is also deploying both players in the exact same position (albeit with more freedom).

The reality is that Kante has probably only played as a true CDM of a midfield trio a handful
of times for Chelsea. That’s not to say that he can’t. Managers seem to prefer the use of Kante’s relentless pressing and bottomless tank of energy as beneficial further up the field, and the sharpening of his attacking output under Sarri’s tutorage has definitely strengthened that argument.

Kante has recently come under some criticism by Chelsea fans as ineffective, particularly in the attacking phases. Whilst this is true, how many people can truly say they picture Kante as a player known for his attacking talents? He will always suffer difficulties playing in areas less comfortable in. The same way you’d expect Mason Mount to look uncomfortable in a more defensive position.

I’m a big believer in bringing out players’ best traits where they can be most effective, and
for me, no position requires Kante’s best attributes more than CDM. The idea of Kante
staying back to sweep up any potential counter attacks with his world class level of
regaining possession seems like common sense. Nonetheless, there appears to be a
persistent reluctance to even consider playing him there of which I don’t understand. Surely
worth a try?

Andreas Christensen
Christensen is another player who splits the fan base, he’s very much a confidence player
like the incredibly frustrating Alvaro Morata. Chelsea fans’ have seen him at both his best &
his worst, unfortunately he’s never been able to consistently hold down his position since
the days of Antonio Conte. His biggest flaw seems to be his bravery and aggression,
something Frank Lampard has openly admitted he needs to improve on.

He does, however, have bags of talent. Arguably one of the most positionally intelligent
players Chelsea have, and generally ice cool on the ball with 90% passing accuracy, higher
than any other Chelsea player. His defensive abilities on top of this make him a very well-
rounded player.

Christensen already has experience playing CDM, primarily for Denmark where he’s
regularly used in the national team, including a number of games in the World Cup against
the likes of France. Whilst Christensen may not be the long term answer, his defensive
prowess, positional awareness, height advantage over others in Chelsea ranks, and
experience in the position should definitely be of consideration for Lampard, particularly
when Chelsea are looking to close out a game.

With upcoming games against Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, &
Manchester City within the next 2 months, it’s crucial that Lampard understands the
importance of solidarity in the midfield. If the options above aren’t sufficient then Chelsea
still have time to invest in the January market. Next we’ll look at some of realistic options
that they should be considering.

Written by: @ScottyA_ Uploaded and Edited by: MAH.

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