Welcome back everyone. In the first part, we analysed what Lampard would need in defence for next season.
In this article, we’ll move further up the pitch into midfield. As said previously, Lampard wants his style of play to be similar to the one at Derby: a 4-3-3 formation. But now that we’re talking about the midfield, his style requires a holding midfielder and two attacking central midfielders.
So, what should the Blues manager focus on this Summer in midfield?
I’ll be going over which players have the ability to play in Lampard’s midfield while comparing them with our transfer targets, before ending it on the remaining Chelsea players.
SIGN A TOP CLASS DM OR KEEP JORGINHO?
At Derby County, Frank had a holding midfielder with good passing distribution, especially when sending the ball long, and good physicality to comfortably win the ball.
Jorginho Frello is currently our main holding midfielder. Born in Brazil in 1991, he moved to Italy when he was 15 and joined Hellas Verona’s Youth Academy a few months later. Three years later he joined Sambonifacese on loan, and after a successful season, he was promoted to Hellas Verona’s First Team. In January 2014, a few months after Verona’s promotion to Serie A, the Italian joined Napoli for £8.6m in a co-ownership deal. Four-and-a-half years later, he joined Chelsea with former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri for £58.5m. He was almost a constant presence for the Blues, but was scapegoated a lot by Chelsea fans, despite continuing to improve his performances. This season, his performances improved under new boss Frank Lampard, and his creativity, defensive solidity, and partnership with Mateo Kovacic were crucial early on in the campaign; he was even rewarded the vice-captaincy for his experience and leadership.
In terms of tactics, Jorginho is a highly technical player known for his deep-lying playmaking abilities, which generally allows him to take his time when dictating the team’s play and to link up the play between defence and attack (84.3 average passes per game at an 89.3% accuracy last season, 71.6 at an 88% accuracy this season, both in the Premier League; 2.5/3.5 accurate long balls per game last season, 3.7/5.8 this season). He’s also capable of being either a box-to-box or ball-winning midfielder, by using his tactical intelligence, awareness, and ability to read the opposition’s play, giving him more time to track back or press high up the pitch to intercept the ball (1.7 interceptions and 0.9 clearances per game last season, 2.2 interceptions and 0.9 clearances this season; 3.4 total duels won last season, 4.3 this season). Finally, he’s a pretty accurate penalty taker (3/4 penalties scored last season, 7/7 this season, both in all competitions), so much so that Frank Lampard gave him the main penalty taker role for this season. Unfortunately, the now 28-year-old doesn’t exactly have the physicality due to his slender build, nor the speed to move around the pitch, which has led many critics to question the signing of the Italian midfielder (I might do a separate article detailing what I think about those criticisms, so keep a lookout for that).
Despite being the type of player Lampard needs in his holding midfield role, should the Blues target a replacement that is more physically built and faster than Jorginho? Let’s dive into some options.
The first option to look at is Amadou Diawara. The former FC Sequence Youth Academy product joined Cattolica San Marino in February 2015, before joining Bologna for £540k in the summer of 2015, then Napoli a year later for £13.1m (the summer of 2016), and finally Roma for £18.9m in the summer of 2019. Since the end of September, the 22-year-old featured regularly for “The She-Wolf,” but he’s had two injuries so far this season (a meniscal laceration from beginning October to beginning November, a meniscal injury from end January to beginning March). When he features, the Guinean plays as a defensive midfielder in a double pivot. He contributes by releasing the press, retaining possession and helping with the build-up through a series of passes (41.8 average passes per game at a 92.8% accuracy last season, 48.1 at an 87.5% accuracy this season, both in Serie A; 2.6/3.4 accurate long balls per game last season, 4.4/6.7 this season). He also loves to cover the whole central midfield and invite pressure, providing faster offensive plays once the ball is won. He’s very physical, recovers the ball by covering the opposition’s attacking midfielders and pressuring the ball-carrier, and is determined to win the ball back at all costs (0.8 interceptions and 0.8 clearances per game last season, 1.9 interceptions and 0.8 clearances this season; 2.2 total duels won last season, 3.3 this season). In short, he has similar traits to N’Golo Kanté and Mousa Dembélé, but his injury record is concerning. Should he stay fit, Diawara could be a big defensive asset.
Then you have Boubakary Soumaré. The former Paris Saint-Germain Youth Academy product joined LOSC Lille on a free transfer in the summer of 2017. The 21-year-old has featured regularly in Ligue 1 from the summer of 2019 to January 2020 (after the loss to PSG), but since then he’s only featured once from the bench. When he does feature, the Frenchman plays on the left side of a double pivot and is the more defensive out of the two. He has the athletic ability to recover the ball (0.8 interceptions and 0.4 clearances per game in Ligue 1, 2.0 interceptions and 1.5 clearances in the UCL, both this season; 3.0 total duels won in Ligue 1, 6.3 in the UCL), and once he does he either recycles the ball (37.7 average passes per game at an 89.8% accuracy in Ligue 1, 46.8 at an 86.1% accuracy in the UCL; 1.9/2.8 accurate long balls per game in Ligue 1, 3.3/4.8 in the UCL) to his more attacking partners (who are positioned higher up the pitch) or uses his dribbling ability (1.0 dribbles per game and fouled 0.5 times per game in Ligue 1, 3.0 dribbles per game and fouled 1.3 times per game in the UCL) to beat the first line of pressure and create chances in the final third with ease (due to his strong passing ability). There’s no doubt you can see a similarity between him and Tiémoué Bakayoko (before the Frenchman joined the Blues): he’s tall, strong and fast. However, just like Bakayoko, not only will he not be ready for the physicality of the Premier League, but the pressure on his shoulders by joining a Top 6 side will be a recipe for disaster. If anything, he should join Everton first, as they’ve lacked a player of his ability since the departure of Idrissa Gueye. That will give him time to adjust, and when he’s good enough, he’ll be ready to join a Top 6 side.
Another option is Declan Rice. The West Ham United Youth Academy product joined the First Team in the summer of 2017 and has featured regularly in the Premier League since the summer of 2018. Originally a centre-back, the 21-year-old has shifted into defensive midfield at West Ham, and currently plays in a double-pivot; he also can play as a holding midfielder, doing so in a three-man midfield for England. Tactically, the Englishman has a talent for delaying or stopping counter-attacks, which not only allows his teammates to come back into position, but also is quite useful for a possession-based team (who can be exposed in transition). He’s also quite physical in his tackling (1.5 interceptions and 1.6 clearances per game last season, 2.1 interceptions and 1.4 clearances this season, both in the Premier League; 5.4 total duels won last season, 5.8 this season) and has the intelligence and awareness to anticipate loose balls. In terms of aerial ability (6’2”), he’s very combative defensively (1.6 aerial duels won last season, 1.4 this season), and his power, timing and desire to attack the ball make him an asset in the offensive areas of the pitch (especially when it comes to set-pieces). While Rice has decent ball control, he does struggle with bouncing balls, change in directions and first touch (especially in more advanced positions). While his passing is improving (44.6 average passes per game at an 86.4% accuracy last season, 45.0 at an 86.2% accuracy this season; 2.9/4.3 accurate long balls per game last season, 3.0/5.1 this season), the awareness needed between a centre-back and midfielder is vastly different, so he’ll need more time and experience to adjust. In short, while Rice is a player to watch over the next couple of years, he still has a long way to go before he can feature regularly in a Top 6 side.
Finally, there’s Wilfred Ndidi. The former Nath Boys Youth Academy product joined KRC Genk for £162k in January 2015, before joining Leicester City two years later for £15.8m (January 2017). Barring injuries and suspensions, the 23-year-old has featured in almost all Premier League games for the Foxes. By playing in a holding midfield role in a 4-1-4-1 formation and being part of a team that is excelling beyond expectations, the Nigerian has offered what Brendan Rodgers requires of him: he can spot the danger early on and react fast by marking the player or blocking the passing lanes; with the full-backs supporting the attack he covers the flanks to prevent dangerous counter-attacks; he has the strength to win the ball back in one-on-one situations and the passing ability to create a counter-attack. When Ndidi was injured this season, Rodgers used his backup options (Choudhury and Mendy), but neither managed to perform as well. In terms of stats in the Premier League, he made 52.2 average passes per game at a 79.9% accuracy last season, compared to 50 at an 84.1% accuracy this season; 2.4/4.6 accurate long balls per game last season, 2.7/4.5 this season; 2.2 interceptions and 2.1 clearances per game last season, compared to 2.7 interceptions and 2.0 clearances this season; 8.6 total duels won last season, compared to 7.9 this season. It’s clear that Ndidi’s presence creates a lack of risk when Leicester go on the defence or offence. Despite having a player value of £37.8m, expect Leicester to ask for at least double (over £75m). This is a player that should be on the radar of elite clubs like Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid, including Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
By looking at these targets, it’s clear that Wilfried Ndidi has the best defensive stats, and despite none of them coming close to Jorginho’s passing stats, only Amadou Diawara has completed more long balls than the Italian. Given the importance of having a player with good passing ability and better defensive abilities than Jorginho, if the Italian does leave in the summer the ideal replacement would be Wilfred Ndidi. However, the Blues will have to look elsewhere to replace Jorginho’s leadership and penalty taking.
In terms of a backup option for the Nigerian midfielder, Lampard could use rising Youth Academy product Billy Gilmour.
Billy Gilmour was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2001. Eight years later, he joined Glasgow Rangers’ Youth Academy, where he quickly rose up the ranks, so far as competing with the under-21s and training with the First Team at the ages of 15 and 16. Despite Rangers’ attempts to try and keep him at the club, Chelsea came calling for the young midfielder and joined the Blues in July 2017 for £500k. After a season with the under-18s and being an integral part to Jody Morris’ unprecedented silverware success, he received a professional contract in July 2018 and a call-up to Scotland’s under-21 squad for the Toulon Tournament (in which he won the “Revelation of the Tournament” trophy). Fast forward to the 2019/20 season and the young midfielder made his First Team debut from the bench against Sheffield United in August, before making his full debut in the Carabao Cup against Grimsby Town. While still in the development squad, he joined the First Team squad following Jorginho’s 2 Premier League games suspension (after receiving his 10th yellow card against AFC Bournemouth) and was widely praised for his performance against Liverpool in the FA Cup Fifth Round.
In terms of tactics, Gilmour is a technically gifted player known for his playmaking abilities and flexible positioning (he can play in the holding, central and attacking midfield roles). He’s constantly aware of his surroundings before receiving the ball, by doing one or two shoulder checks to analyse the nearest opposition player’s position (is he running in to press him, to press someone else, or to cut off a passing option, and is there a free space he can exploit to pass or move into), before applying a one-touch pass or no-touch turn. This awareness skill is necessary when playing as a deep-lying playmaker for a team playing from the back-line, and allows the 18-year-old to avoid any type of pressing and find teammates in free spaces, whether it’s in the defensive or offensive side of the pitch (37 passes at a 75.5% accuracy and 1/3 accurate long ball against Liverpool in the FA Cup Fifth Round, 73 passes at a 91.3% accuracy and 2/3 accurate long balls against Everton in the Premier League). While Jorginho likes to push up the pitch to press his opponents, which in turn makes it more difficult to make recovery runs (especially with his lake of pace), the Scotsman generally stays in his position to provide defensive cover to the defence (especially when one of them is caught out of position), and when he does push up he not only has the ability to win the ball high up the pitch, but also has enough pace to come back and make the recovery runs (1 interception and 2 clearances against Liverpool, 1 interception and 1 clearance against Everton; 11 total duels won against Liverpool and 7 against Everton).
There’s no doubt in my mind that Billy Gilmour has the talent to play in the holding midfield position, but being able to play as he did against Liverpool and Everton on a consistent basis is paramount if he wants to become a regular starter for the Blues.
FINDING THE RIGHT BACKUP FOR MATEO KOVACIC
Moving further up the pitch into central midfield and Lampard requires two highly energetic and pressing players who can act as ball carriers and have a lot of stamina. Since Lampard does use the 4-2-3-1 formation as an alternative, it’s important to have at least one player with good defensive and offensive abilities.
I believe Mateo Kovačić is an amazing all-round midfielder. Born in Austria in 1994 to Croatian parents, he started his Youth Academy career with LASK Linz at the age of six. When he was 13, he was spotted by several scouts of prominent clubs (Ajax, Inter, Juventus, Bayern), but his parents wanted to return to Zagreb, so he joined Dinamo Zagreb’s Youth Academy in 2007. In November 2010, he made his professional debut for Zagreb’s First Team, and would carry on playing with the “Modri” for just over two years before joining Inter Milan for £9.9m in January 2013. Two-and-a-half years later, due to Financial Fair Play regulations, he joined Spanish giants Real Madrid for £34.2m (August 2015). Despite being used regularly under Rafa Benitez, his playing time was cut short under Zinedine Zidane. After three seasons with “Los Blancos”, he joined Chelsea on a one-year loan (August 2018), with an option to stay permanently. Despite not being a regular starter, his linkup with Eden Hazard really caught the eye, so the Blues decided to sign him permanently for £40.5m a season later.
Tactically, Kovačić is a great technician known for his amazing dribbling abilities and versatility (he can play as a defensive, central and attacking midfielder). The 25-year-old likes to collect the ball from deep before driving it forward, often performing slalom runs and dribbling past opponents (in the Premier League per game, 1.3 successful dribbles last season and 2.8 this season) or distributing the ball to players in more forward positions (per game, 45.9 average passes at a 92.0% accuracy last season, 63.4 at an 89.6% accuracy this season; 0.9/1.3 accurate long balls last season and 3.1/4.7 this season), and sometimes those tactical plays can result in goalscoring opportunities (0 goals and 2 assists last season, 1 goal and 3 assists this season; 0.4 shots per game and 0.8 key passes last season, 0.4 shots and 1.0 key passes this season). He also has excellent defensive work rate and likes to run back into the defensive zone to give his all to help out the defence (per game, 0.3 interceptions and 0.6 clearances last season, 0.8 interceptions and 0.5 clearances this season; 4.1 total duels won last season and 6.2 this season).
But like every player before him, a backup is necessary should the Croatian midfielder have a dip in form or an injury. So do Chelsea use a current Fist Team player, a Youth Academy product, players currently out on loan, or sign someone?
One option would be Conor Gallagher. The Chelsea Youth Academy product joined the club when he was six years of age. He joined the under-18s in the summer of 2016, before progressing to the under-23s two seasons later. The following season he was sent out on loan to Charlton Athletic, and following an impressive six months with the relegation side, his loan was cut short before being sent on loan to another Championship club (Swansea City) for another six months. The 20-year-old has featured in 36/37 EFL matches for both clubs, starting in 35. Despite not yet featuring in the top-flight, the Englishman has the talents to become a promising all-round midfielder. He’s seen by many as a box-to-box midfielder with amazing attacking abilities. He likes to play wide movements, and due to his agility, quick observation and physical strength he has the ability to play fast and accurate passes (in the Championship per game, 26.8 average passes at a 79.9% accuracy at Charlton, 32.9 at a 75.1% accuracy at Swansea; 2.0 accurate long balls at Charlton and 1.0 at Swansea), both with the objective to open up space on the flanks for his teammates by dragging in the opposition and creating goalscoring chances (6 goals and 2 assists at Charlton, 0 goals and 5 assists at Swansea; 1.7 shots per game and 0.8 key passes at Charlton, 1.8 shots and 1.8 key passes at Swansea). If the opposition doesn’t get dragged out of position by his movement, he will sometimes use his dribbling skills (per game, 1.4 successful dribbles at Charlton and 1.4 at Swansea) and fake shots (creating a bigger angle to shoot from) to get past them and create goalscoring opportunities. He’ll always try and find spaces to exploit, on and off the ball. While some may see him as a modern attacking midfielder, he doesn’t neglect his defensive duties (per game, 0.9 interceptions and 0.8 clearances at Charlton, 0.9 interceptions and 0.3 clearances at Swansea; 5.8 total duels won this season). In short, Gallagher is a talented player who has the ability to become another youth player to play in Chelsea’s senior squad. I still think that another year on loan, this time in the top-flight division and maybe outside of England, will help him improve as a player, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him compete with Mateo Kovačić.
Then you have Ethan Ampadu. The former Exeter Youth Academy product joined the Blues in the summer of 2017 for £2.5m. Despite mostly featuring in the development squad and some First Team cup competitions, the club wanted to give him more game time, so they sent him out on a one-year loan to RB Leipzig in the summer of 2019. The 19-year-old is very versatile in central positions of the pitch (from centre-back to central-midfield) and has a lot of strengths: he has good passing ability, especially with his long balls and passes into the final third, and uses it to unlock defences and bypass the press; his speed and aggressiveness allow him to make defensive recoveries and engage in one-on-one situations to stop transitions of play; he has the intelligence to know when to delay or press an opponent, especially when one of the defenders is drawn out wide. Despite that, it’s hard to understand why the Welshman has been a bench warmer at RB Leipzig, only featuring in 6 out of 34 matches in the Bundesliga and the Champions League (two of which he started), which makes it harder to use stats as he hasn’t featured regularly. Even if he had an exceptional performance against Spurs in the Champions League, what Ampadu needs is game time, and maybe RB Leipzig was too big of a club to choose for his career. Despite being linked to the bottom six in the Premier League and the top six in the Championship last summer, a loan move to Everton’s Carlo Ancelotti could be a decent way to put his career back on track.
Another potential backup to consider is Sandro Tonali. The Brescia Youth Academy product joined the First Team in January 2018 and has featured regularly in the Serie A since the summer of 2019. Under this season’s formation, the 19-year-old has regularly featured on the right of a midfield diamond (4-3-1-2). While the Italian may not be a prolific player, he has the abilities of a complete midfielder: he does a mixture of defensive duels (1.0 interceptions and 1.3 clearances per game; 5.2 total duels won) and dribbles (1.4 successful dribbles per game); he creates chances from deep or forward positions (39.5 average passes at a 73.9% accuracy per game; 2.7/5.7 accurate long balls per game; 1 goal and 5 assists; 0.5 shots and 2.1 key passes per game); and he makes runs into the final third. His overall contribution has led him to being fouled a fair amount (2.2 per game), because he loves to win the ball and bring it forward, and to performing in Brescia’s style of physical dominance. At such a young age, he’s ranked as the Rondinelle’s best player, with an average rating of 6.96. There’s no doubt that the Italian is a wonderkid and is currently attracting interest from the likes of Juventus, Manchester City and other Premier League clubs. Should he join the Blues, Lampard won’t want to put his offensive talent to waste, so he’ll be an ideal backup option to the Croatian midfielder.
Finally, there’s Thomas Partey. The Atlético Madrid Youth Academy product joined the First Team in the summer of 2015. The 26-year-old has featured regularly in both the Champions League and La Liga since the summer of 2017. This season he’s been such an integral part to Diego Simeone’s side, especially in the Champions League. Defensively, the Ghanaian’s output is strong (In La Liga per game, 0.3 interceptions and 0.6 clearances last season, 0.8 interceptions and 0.5 clearances this season; 4.1 total duels won last season and 6.6 this season) and has vast coverage: on numerous occasions he has been asked to take out more than one opposition player out of the game, whether by reducing the free space, cutting passing lanes or engaging in one-on-one situations (he excelled at that against Liverpool in the Champions League), and this is facilitated by his athletic ability to cover every part of the pitch. With the ball he has the intelligence and awareness to evade any form of team pressing, and at times he will bring the ball up the pitch (per game, 41.5 average passes at an 83.8% accuracy last season, 49.5 at an 83.1% accuracy this season) by sending in long passes (per game, 2.3/3.8 accurate long balls last season and 3.2/5.8 this season) or dribbling past opponents (per game, 1.1 successful dribbles last season and 1.9 this season), which in turn will lead to goalscoring opportunities (3 goals and 4 assists last season, 2 goals and 0 assists this season; 1.0 shots per game and 0.6 key passes last season, 0.5 shots and 0.7 key passes this season). In short, he is no different to Ethan Ampadu, but has more experience in the top-flight and European level. With a rumoured release clause of £45m, Partey would be a perfect option to compete with Mateo Kovačić.
Out of these four options, if the Blues need someone who can compete with Mateo Kovačić week-in-week-out, then target Thomas Partey; if they need someone with top-flight experience who can jump in when the Croatian is struggling, then target Sandro Tonali; if they want to give an academy product a chance to compete with him following a loan spell, then use Conor Gallagher. I think that either choices are good, but I believe Mateo Kovačić will want someone who can challenge him as competition always pushed players to do better, so signing Thomas Partey might be the better option.
There’s one player I’m sure you must be also thinking of, who’s currently in Chelsea’s First Team, but I will come back to him at a later stage.
ARE RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK AND MASON MOUNT GOOD ENOUGH AT CM?
Moving on to the other central midfielder and as said before: “Lampard requires two highly energetic and pressing players who can act as ball carriers and have a lot of stamina.” The main difference with his central midfield counterpart is that should Lampard rotate to a 4-2-3-1 formation, this player will need to play as a “number 10” and will need good attacking abilities to provide goalscoring options to the forwards.
Let’s start off with Mason Mount. Born in Portsmouth, England in 1999, he joined Chelsea’s Youth Academy at the age of six and signed for the Blues at the under-9s age group. He made his debut for the under-18s in the 2013/14 season and made more appearances the following season, before officially joining the under-18s in the summer of 2015. In the 2016/17 season he featured in either the under-18s or under-21s, and at the end of that season he signed a four-year contract (summer of 2017). Days after signing his new contract he was sent out on a year-long loan to parent club SBV Vitesse. During his time with the “Geel en Zwart,” his creativity and finishing ability stood out, which led him to being included several times in the Eredivisie Team of the Week and winning Vitesse’ Player of the Year award. Following an impressive season with the Dutch side, he was sent on a season-long loan to Derby County in the summer of 2018, who was being managed by Frank Lampard and Jody Morris. The youngster was an integral player to the team’s style of play, with his ability to press and his quality on the ball, so much so that when he was injured in February and March Derby only managed two wins in 10 matches. Following his impressive loan spell with the Championship side, Mount signed a new five-year contract, and with the appointment of Frank Lampard as manager, he became a regular player for the First Team. Internationally, from the summer of 2014 Mount progressed yearly at every level of the English national team (from the under-16s to the Men’s National Team).
Tactically, Mount is a quality attacking midfielder. He’s well known for his quality with the ball, by finding space in the opposition’s defensive area of the pitch and using his dribbling quality (per game, 1.2 successful in the Premier League and 0.6 in the UCL) to attract defenders to mark him down (once he receives the ball in those positions). This in turn opens space for the forwards to exploit, which the 21-year-old exploits by sending creative and incisive passes (per game, 32.7 average passes at an 85.1% accuracy in the Premier League, 17.3 at a 71.9% accuracy in the UCL; 0.6/1.0 accurate long balls in the Premier League and 0.9/1.2 in the UCL), and at times he’s not afraid to create goalscoring chances of his own (6 goals and 4 assists in the Premier League, 0 goals and 0 assists in the UCL; 1.4 shots per game and 1.5 key passes in the Premier League, 1.3 shots and 1.1 key passes in the UCL). He’s also very active in counter-pressing when the Blues are out of possession (per game, 3.7 total duels won in the Premier League and 2.9 in the UCL), especially when the opposition build out from the back, by moving to press aggressively the player who’s about to receive the ball and force him to make a mistake (this is why you see the Englishman in centre-forward positions when the opposition have the ball, as it allows the striker to conserve energy). Winning the ball high up the pitch allows Chelsea to put maximum pressure on their opponents and create more goalscoring opportunities. In short, Mount is a magnet for the opposition and were it not for the Transfer Ban, he would have struggled to get as much game time as he did this season. He’s definitely saved the club at least £50m (given how we’ve been linked with Coutinho, Isco, Aouar and others, no I’m not joking).
Then there’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Born in Lewisham, Greater London in 1996, he joined Chelsea’s Youth Academy at the age of eight. He impressed at the beginning of the 2011/12 season for the under-18s before picking up a hip injury (which he managed to recover from by the end of the season). In the 2012/13 season, his influence in both the under-18s and under-21s earned him a post-season tour in May 2013 with the First Team squad, and he carried on featuring in both Youth Academies the following season (in which he lifted the under-21s Premier League and the under-18s FA Youth Cup. In the 2014/15 season, he permanently joined the under-21s, before being promoted to the First Team by Jose Mourinho in February 2015 (while still featuring in the under-21s and winning the UEFA Youth League). In the following season, he made 17 appearances and signed a new five-year contract in February 2016. In the 2016/17 season under Antonio Conte, his role shifted from midfield to a second striker and he made 11 appearances. The following season he was sent out on a season-long loan to Crystal Palace, and while he was often asked to play out wide the youngster was one of their best players. This breakout season earned him senior call-ups to the England National Team, especially for the 2018 World Cup. In the 2018/19 season, he featured regularly in the Europa League for the Blues but was ruled out for the Final due to an achilles injury in a No To Antisemtism charity match against New England Revolution (an injury that has kept him out throughout the 2019/20 season). Therefore, when analysing the player, we’ll have to use stats from last season in the Premier League and Europa League.
Despite the 24-year-old favouring the “number 8” role, he’s very flexible in his positioning (he can play at left-wing, right-wing, central-attacking midfield and central-midfield). With his excellent dribbling ability (per game, 1.7 successful dribbles in the Premier League and 3.6 in the Europa League), not only has he looked somewhat press-resistant, but he’s also a playmaker who often drops in between the lines and drives the ball forward to his teammates and/or into the box with line-breaking passes (per game, 25.4 average passes at an 87.9% accuracy in the Premier League, 40.4 at a 90.8% accuracy in the Europa League; 0.5/0.6 accurate long balls in the Premier League and 0.8/1.3 in the Europa League), which allows him to play in the “number 10” role. He also has a high level of positional awareness (of his teammates and oppositions) and reading of the game, by checking his shoulder before receiving the ball. This allows him to take a touch in the unmarked space, enabling him to avoid the press and sometimes start an attack. One thing Chelsea’s midfielders have lacked in is the frequency of shots on goal, with Jorginho, Kanté and Kovacic each averaging less than one shot per game, and this can create problems for the Blues when the forwards are cancelled out. The Englishman averages much more shots on goal (per game, 0.8 shots in the Premier League and 1.5 in the Europa League) and is known for having a decent shooting range, making him a goalscoring threat (6 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League, 4 goals and 3 assists in the Europa League; 0.7 key passes per game in the Premier League 1.2 in the Europa League). He tends to apply it by waiting for the striker to make a near-post run, forcing the opposition’s defence to fall back and open up a gap between them and the opposition’s midfield, before applying his signature move: making a cut-back into the free space and creating a goalscoring opportunity. Despite Sarri saying that Ruben needed to improve his defensive contributions last season (following his hat-trick against BATE Borisov), the stats really show how good his contributions were last season (per game, 4.3 total duels won in the Premier League and 6.6 in the Europa League). Finally, his aerial height (6’2”) and strength can turn him into a threat in both defence and attack. In short, Ruben has proven last season that he can offer what Chelsea have been lacking this season, but there is still doubt as to whether he’ll be the same player once he returns from injury, so game time and patience will be required. Not only that, he has been quite injury prone, so while assessing his fitness issues the Blues might need a third option.
I believe Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s abilities are what Lampard needs in the central midfield or attacking midfield role, but should the Blues have a third option and potentially target a player with more European experience and reputation?
Given my colleagues have already done scouting reports on what I believe to be transfer targets suited to Mason Mount’s and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s position, I think it would be a better idea to link their articles, as their analysis is already heavily detailed:
Philippe Coutinho: https://allthingschelsea.blog/2020/04/08/philippe-coutinho-player-analysis/
Now let’s move on to Ross Barkley. Born in Liverpool, England in 1993, he began his career with Everton at the age of 11. Five years later, he was promoted to the Toffees’ First Team from the Academy but didn’t make a debut in the 2010/11 season (as he broke his leg in the England under-19s in October). The following season, after an impressive pre-season, he made his debut on the opening game (in the 2011/12 season). His performances were so impressive and praised by pundits, he signed a four-and-a-half-year contract in December 2011. Following a good first season, he was sent out on a one-month loan to Sheffield Wednesday, before having four week-by-week loan extension (from September to November 2012). He was then recalled to Everton following a first-team player injury and sent back out on a one-month loan to Leeds United (from January to February 2013). Due to a lack of guaranteed game-time, his loan was not extended. He then re-joined the first-team in the 2013/14 season and scored his first goal on opening day. His quality and consistency earned him a senior call-up to the English National Team for the 2014 World Cup and a new four-year contract (in July 2014). Despite a ligament injury early on into the 2014/15 season, he continued his quality and consistency for the next three seasons. By the end of the 2016/17 season, Ronald Koeman gave an ultimatum to the Englishman: sign a new contract or be sold in the summer. Barkley asked to be sold. The 2017/18 Summer Transfer Window deadline day saw the Evertonian complete a medical at Chelsea, but decided to pull the plug at the last minute as he felt rushed into signing for the London club. He didn’t feature for Everton due to a long-term hamstring injury that kept him out until Boxing Day, but decided to join the Blues a few days later for £15.1m (in January 2018) and signed a five-and-a-half-year contract. Despite not featuring as much that season, he showed signs of promise against Newcastle in the final game of the season. In the 2018/19 season, he was a regular feature under Maurizio Sarri (playing in 27/38 Premier League matches) and regularly rotated with Mateo Kovačić. He also featured regularly in the Europa League (playing in 12/15 matches) and Carabao Cup (playing in 5/6 matches). However, this season has seen him play more of a backup role under Frank Lampard, but he has shown signs of improvement in his last two games.
Tactically, Barkley has looked like a shadow of his former self. At Everton, he was renowned for being a risk taker: a man who would offer a goal threat from midfield and a ball carrier who had good dribbling skills. Last season, despite looking shaky as a ball carrier in tight positions, he’s been more clever: he’s been more involved due to his defensive work, speed, stamina, strength; and has been doing more basic work: short passing, ball retention, tracking back, determination and high press energy (things that he has been training on since he arrived under Conte). The stats from last season’s Premier League campaign don’t look so promising either: 3 goals and 5 assists; 1.0 shots and 0.8 key passes per game; 35.3 average passes per game at a 91.2% accuracy; 1.5/1.7 long balls per game; 0.1 through balls per game; 0.6 successful dribbles per game; was fouled 1.0 times per game; 2.8 total duels won per game. There’s no doubt that the 26-year-old was shackled last season, but despite playing less in the Premier League this season, his former self is slowly re-emerging: 0 goals and 3 assists; 2.2 shots and 1.5 key passes per game; 31.0 average passes per game at an 88.1% accuracy; 1.8/2.3 long balls per game; 0.2 through balls per game; 1.4 successful dribbles per game; was fouled 0.4 times per game; 3.3 total duels won per game. These stats show how he has been more of an attacking threat under Lampard than under Sarri, which is definitely a good sign. So why have fans hated on him so much? Despite performing well in these last two games, he’s not been taking enough risks and has misplaced a lot of passes since he signed for the London club. In short, there’s no doubt that Barkley has been inconsistent, but after performing well in his last two games and with the current injury to Loftus-Cheek, it might be best to keep him as a rotation option until at least January 2021.
To conclude, despite being linked with other attacking midfielders, I believe that there’s no need to sign anyone for that position, as Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are good enough to make that position their own and signing new players is not only unnecessary (as Frank Lampard is the current Chelsea manager and has had experience in their position), it will hinder their progress to potentially becoming top-class players. However, having Ross Barkley as a rotation option could give Loftus-Cheek more time to perform as he once did. Then, by January 2021, we can re-evaluate whether Ross Barkley should remain at the club or not.
Now onto the last segment regarding one first-team player we haven’t discussed.
KEEP OR SELL: THE REMAINING FIRST-TEAM PLAYER
There is only one first-team player that hasn’t been discussed throughout this article, but we’ll do so now by asking ourselves a simple question: N’Golo Kanté, keep or sell?
N’Golo Kanté was born in Paris, France in 1991 to Malian parents and began his career with JS Suresnes at the age of eight. Over a decade later, he joined US Boulogne’s B Team in 2010. Following the team’s relegation to the third-tier of French football (Championnat National) in 2011/12, he was promoted to the First Team and featured in all but one game for the 2012/13 season. He then joined Ligue 2 side SM Caen on a free transfer in the summer of 2013 and featured in all league matches in 2013/14. After finishing third that season, Caen were promoted to Ligue 1 and he featured in 37/38 league matches in 2014/15. After leading the stats for ball recoveries in Europe’s top five leagues, Leicester City decided to sign him for £8.1m in the summer of 2015. With Leicester being crowned 2015/16 Premier League champions (against all the odds) and despite Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez seen as the architects of the Foxes’ success, Kanté’s ball recoveries and ability to be anywhere on the pitch made sure that they were so defensively solid (he even topped the league’s defensive stats). It was his talent that caught the eye of so many elite European clubs and he joined Chelsea for £32.2m in the summer of 2016. Three seasons on and the little engine has won another Premier League (2016/17), the FA Cup (2017/18), the World Cup (Russia 2018) and the Europa League (2018/19). Unfortunately for him, this season has seen the Frenchman pick up a fair amount of injuries, which all started from the hamstring injury he picked up on the 9th May against Eintracht Frankfurt and being somewhat fit to play in the Europa League final against Arsenal (since then, he’s had knee problems for nine days in June; a sprained ankle, from after our home draw against Leicester in August until a couple of days before our Liverpool game in September; an unknown injury, from the October International Break until our Aston Villa game in November; and an abductor injury, from after our Manchester United game in February until after the Everton game in March).
While many Chelsea fans want to compare the 29-year-old to former Chelsea holding midfielder Claude Makelele, their assessment isn’t accurate. Makelele is used to dominating the pitch as a single-pivot (especially in Jose Mourinho’s 4-3-3 at the base of the midfield), while Kanté has performed for most of his career in a double pivot (whether it was a 4-4-2 at Leicester or 3-4-3 at Chelsea under Conte) and struggled when played as the base of the midfield (especially in a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 under Conte). Makelele was known for protecting the defence, winning the ball and dictating the play, while Kanté is known for his mobility in contributing both in defence and attack at a high work rate (something you see from a box-to-box midfielder, not a holding midfielder). However, despite Sarri and Lampard recognising Kanté’s attacking assets, there is no doubt that his defensive stats have taken a hit under both managers (per game, 1.2 interceptions and 0.7 clearances last season, 2.1 interceptions and 1.3 clearances this season; 4.1 total duels won last season and 4.5 this season) compared to under Conte (per game, 2.4 interceptions and 1.2 clearances in 2016/17, 2.5 interceptions and 0.8 clearances in 2017/18; 5.6 total duels won in 2016/17 and 5.6 in 2017/18). It’s clear that the little engine thrives in a double-pivot, but not in a 4-3-3. This creates a problem for the Chelsea manager, as it will be difficult to use formations apart from those with a double-pivot, and so I believe it should be in Chelsea’s and Kanté’s interest to part ways.
Looking at recent clubs that were targeting the Frenchman, the logical choice for Kanté would be to join PSG: in-game and when no players are injured, we’ve seen Thomas Tuchel favour a 3-4-3 or 4-2-2-2 formation (where the double-pivot would act as shields to the back-line, dictate the play and contribute in both defence and attack). The signing of Idrissa Gueye from Everton has been a decent acquisition for the French club, but when he’s been injured Tuchel has had to play Marquinhos in that position (who’s more of a centre-back), so competition is needed. The “Parisians” will also need to replace some of their defenders (Kurzawa, Meunier and Thiago Silva), who are set to leave on a free transfer this summer, and Mbappé will be their only recognised striker next season (with Icardi’s loan ending and Cavani and Choupo-Moting set to leave on a free transfer). Regardless, seeing Kanté playing alongside Verratti (a player known for his press-resistance and high mobility) could bring back the Drinkwater-Kanté partnership (which guided Leicester City to their first Premier League title in 2015/16) and could make PSG the favourites to win the Champions League in 2020/21.
To conclude everything that has been said:
- If Chelsea are to replace Jorginho, they’ll need someone with good crossing ability, faster and defensively better than the Italian, and the best option is Wilfred Ndidi (with Billy Gilmour as his backup option);
- They need a backup option for Mateo Kovačić, and the best option is Thomas Partey as he’ll compete week-in-week-out with the Croatian (with Conor Gallagher and Sandro Tonali as good alternative options);
- Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are good enough to compete with one another, but Ross Barkley should stay as a rotation option while Loftus-Cheek’s fitness is being assessed.
- They should sell N’Golo Kanté.
And that’s all for now! Quite a controversial ending, wasn’t it? Next up will be the last article series, based on what Chelsea should change in attack to implement Lampard’s style of play. If you’ve enjoyed it, don’t forget to like and share this article!
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[All statistics were used from WhoScored and SofaScore]
Edited by: Dan