Ethan Ampadu had almost become a forgotten man this season. His surprise loan move to the Bundesliga’s up-and-coming giants, RB Leipzig, was met with much satisfaction around the Chelsea fanbase. One of Chelsea’s top young talents was going to one of the Bundesliga’s more favourable teams in terms of player development. With Bundesliga success stories such as Jadon Sancho, or closer to home, Andreas Christensen, it was easy to be very optimistic about the move.
Fast forward five months and the most notable part of his move so far has been his surprise decision to cut his dreadlocks and opt for a high fade. Even this had caused quite the stir, highlighting the player’s popularity with Chelsea fans. RB Leipzig have played 32 games this season and Ampadu has only featured in seven of them. What’s even more alarming is that only TWO of them have been starts. Where has it all gone wrong so far?
RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann has addressed Ampadu’s lack of playing time saying that, despite his hard work andwillingness to learn, there are others simply ahead of him in the pecking order. RB Leipzig are currently sitting in second in the Bundesliga whilst on course to qualify for the Champions League quarter final. It’s easy to forget that this is actually RB Leipzig’s best footballing season in their club history. With this in mind and all first team players’ performance levels consistently high, would you be gambling on an 18 year-old loanee if you were in Nagelsmann’s shoes? Ampadu was clearly appointed for squad depth as opposed to guaranteed starter.
Adding salt to Ampadu’s wounds, Nagelsmann views Ampadu as a Centre Back. Meaning his direct competition is 19 year-old wonderkid Dayot Upamecano. The young centre back has been a mainstay in Nagelsmann’s side this season putting up a credible Whoscored average rating of 7.22, and is now widely touted as one of football’s top up and coming centre backs. The competition doesn’t get much tougher for Ampadu.
Nonetheless, Upamecano recently picked up an injury and the young Welshman’s patience was rewarded with just his second start of the season… away at Tottenham… in the Champions League knockout stages. For many players, this may be seen as a daunting task. Look no further than Bjorn Engel’s performance against Tottenham (where he single-handily gave Spurs three points at Villa Park) to see exactly how NOT to take your opportunity. Ampadu though, never phased by any challenge presented to him, passed with flying colours. He finished the game with the highest amount of touches, passes and interceptions, whilst likewise helping his side secure a clean sheet and huge advantage going into the second leg.
Frustratingly, Upamecano came back into Leipzig’s side for their 0-5 demolition of Schalke this weekend, with Ampadu remaining an unused sub. It looks as though the faster we get Ampadu back in the Chelsea ranks, the better.
“I’m a Chelsea fan. I want to be a part of the squad next season”. – Ampadu recently came out stating his desires to break into the Chelsea team next season,- which could very much feel like a new signing. But what can he bring?
One thing we’ve gathered from Lampard this season is that he’s not afraid to change the formation depending on our opposition. We’ve regularly played in a number of different formations, most notably 3-4-3, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 & 4-4-2.
Ampadu has experience playing in all of these formations, and in a number of positions. He’s played in a back 3, back 4, as a CDM and a CM in a double pivot. Wales manager Ryan Giggs regularly plays him in midfield whilst Nagelsmann has so far utilised him as a Centre Back. His versatility gives Lampard a stronger hand in both depth and managing particular scenarios. For example he may move him from midfield into defence in the last 10-15 minutes, switching from a back 4 to a back 3 to sturdy up the defence and see out a game. On the other hand, he may opt to switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, bringing on a striker for one of the more advanced central midfielders and pushing Ampadu slightly forward into a double pivot.
Whilst Ampadu’s versatility can be seen as a positive, it’s important that his primary position is established before he becomes a “jack of all trades, master of none”. He’s rarely put a foot wrong in any position he’s played, so it’s much easier to say than do. Nonetheless I think Ampadu’s future lies in midfield, particularly CDM. Here are some of his best qualities.
Physicality & Aggression
For all Chelsea’s technical proficiency in midfield, we lack physical presence. There probably aren’t many midfielders going to Stamford Bridge worried that they’ll feel bullied against the likes of Jorginho, Kovacic and Mount. Ampadu’s typically aggressive style offers Chelsea some much needed spike in the centre of the pitch. He’s never afraid to make a challenge and loves letting opposition players know he’s there, making them second guess next time they’re in threatening positions. It took him all of about 30 seconds to introduce himself to the Stamford Bridge on his senior debut by winning a crunching 50/50 challenge against Nottingham Forest. Those kind of challenges can alter the whole atmosphere in the stadium.
In addition, his pace and defensive awareness would give Chelsea a major boost in addressing potential counter attacks and sweeping up any turnovers. This has been one of our primary weaknesses this season.
Maturity & Leadership Qualities
Ampadu made his debut appearance for Chelsea in 2017, coming on in the 55th minute for Cesc Fabregas against Nottingham Forest. As soon as he was on the pitch, you’d think he’d also taken the captain’s armband. He was constantly presenting passing options whilst orchestrating those around him, almost double his age, to make the necessary movements.
His passing is generally decent. An average of 90% pass completion this season, and willingness to produce the occasional long ball when necessary, compliments Lampard’s possession-orientated style. His general comfort on the ball should ensure that he has minimal issues playing out of the press.
The defensive part of his game is where he truly excels. Along with a strong, committed tackle, his positional sense is usually spot-on. He has a natural understanding of where to be and when or not to commit to pressing a player (gambling on leaving space behind him). When he does choose to press, he more often than not wins back the ball. Having such a reliable figure preventing any potential attacks allows Chelsea’s more advanced players to take risks when in the oppositions attacking third.
Lampard’s tactical flexibility has often seen Chelsea play with two central midfielders in the double pivot, and therefore makes any argument for Ampadu playing CDM invalid. Again, with Ampadu’s versatility this should be no problem for him, being the more defensive of a midfield 2 would allow the other to focus more on progressing attacking moves. Imagine a midfield duo of Gilmour (dictating the proceedings from deep) and Ampadu (bossing the opposition and clearing up any mess). HUGE potential and something we should all be looking forward to as Chelsea fans. What’s more exciting is that it is a genuine possibility later this year, at least in friendlies and cup games.
The sooner we get Ethan back the better. Hopefully Lampard has a plan for him.