Chelsea’s Midfield Revolution: Analysing The Blue’s Remarkable Revamp
Since the January transfer window, Chelsea’s midfield has seen a drastic overhaul. Vice-captain Jorginho was sold to London rivals Arsenal for £10m, and was replaced by Enzo Fernandez. The World Cup winner cost the club a staggering £106m, a Premier League record fee at the time. Young Brazilian Andrey Santos was also recruited, but was shortly loaned back to Brazil after failing to obtain a work permit.
While January saw big investment, the summer has certainly seen a mass exodus. After failing to agree to a new deal, Cobham graduate Mason Mount moved to Manchester United. Another Cobham product in Ruben Loftus-Cheek left too, moving to AC Milan in search of regular football. Champions League winner Kai Havertz was also sold, joining Arsenal after a second place finish last season. The club lost experience in the middle, losing N’golo Kante to the Al Ittihad and Mateo Kovacic to Manchester City. It is also important to note that Denis Zakaria also returned to parent club Juventus. From these sales, an estimated amount of around £160m would have been raised.
So, how have The Blue’s strengthened?
Following the trend since the Boehly-Clearlake takeover of Chelsea, the west London outfit have spent big this summer. They have also stuck to their new recruitment model, and have picked up some of the finest young talent in world football. Lesley Ugochukwu joined from Rennes in a deal worth £23m, and Andrey Santos becomes available after gaining his work permit. The two join a host of young midfielders already acquired by the club. Last summer, Carney Chukwuemeka and Cesare Casadei became two of the club’s first investments into upcoming prospects. Conor Gallagher is still only 23, and is coming off the back of an impressive preseason.
The large sums, however, have come more recently. After lengthy negotiations with Brighton, the club entered into a transfer saga with Liverpool over the signing of Moises Caicedo. Liverpool agreed a £111m fee with the Seagulls, however the Ecuadorian informed the club he only wanted to join Chelsea after already agreeing personal terms. Not long after the two clubs played each other in their opening game, Chelsea struck an agreement with Brighton. The agreement in place is for Chelsea to pay £100m as a fixed fee, with £15m in add-ons. Caicedo completed his medical on Monday afternoon, and was officially confirmed by the club in the evening.
Further news surrounding Chelsea in the same evening also had positive implications. Despite Liverpool’s agreement with Southampton, David Ornstein broke the news that Romeo Lavia’s preference is to join Chelsea. This comes after Liverpool have chased the Belgian throughout the summer, with three bids previously rejected. At the time of writing, the deal is not official, but it looks highly likely that Chelsea will pay around £52m and £3m in add-ons.
From how Pochettino set Chelsea up in preseason, it is highly likely that we will see a pivot of Enzo and Caicedo more often than not. The Blues were typically set up in a 4-2-3-1, where one fullback would bomb forward to join the attack, and the winger on that side inverts to form a box midfield with the attacking midfielder and the pivot. This then forms a tilt dynamic, normally in favour of the attacking-fullback, leaving the opposite winger in space to receive the ball in case of a switch of a play. Enzo has obviously been the constant in this pivot, with Santos and Gallagher trialled next to him.
While the pair may have played well, there are still some dynamics that the team lack next to Enzo. With the newly-named No.8 looking to progress further up the pitch and be more of a play-maker, there is heightened need for defensive nous next to or behind him. Gallagher was more than capable of regaining possession against Liverpool, however the Blues were very open in transition. There is a clear need for elite defensive positioning in midfield to snuff out transitional moves.
Moises Caicedo certainly provides this.
As per fbref.com, Caicedo ranks in an elite percentage of midfielders when it comes to defensive metrics. His awareness is clear with his number of interceptions per game, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Despite him not being as tall as some other ‘destroyers’ in midfield, he is also still aerially dominant. Moises will definitely balance out the midfield pivot, able to provide energy off the ball and able to sniff out danger. This will also enable Enzo to be more forward-thinking, without as much defensive responsibility.
What can Lavia contribute?
With the untimely injury to Christopher Nkunku, Lavia could be more relied upon than he may have initially been. There is a current lack of a clear attacking midfielder, and as such Pochettino could utilise a 4-3-3. Lavia’s profiling would perfectly balance out the midfield. Of the three, Lavia excels as a ball-carrier, and ranks in the 76th percentile of midfielders for successful take-ons per 90. It would be harsh to judge his passing statistics, as Lavia joins from a side that finished rock-bottom last season. Despite this, he still averages an 85.7% passing accuracy per 90, and makes 4.01 progressive passes per 90.
In a three, Caicedo would likely sit the deepest, with Lavia able to shuttle box-to-box and Enzo being able to play as an advanced play-maker. The beauty of this, however, is their interchangeability.
Once again provided by fbref.com, Lavia’s defensive statistics are also very good. We also know that Enzo is more than capable of being the deepest midfielder, able to dictate the tempo from deep but also carry out his defensive duties. Depending on the flow of the game, the dynamics of this three have the potential to be unpredictable for the opposition, with all players comfortable to play in any role. Arguably, only Enzo’s role could be off limits, so the Argentine sitting deeper would likely reduce creativity. The possibility for Lavia to play in a three is also beneficial, allowing him to be eased in at a young age with less responsibility than as a pivot player.
There are some potential drawbacks to the overhaul. The squad has a lack of experience in the midfield, so there may be issues in big games or high-stake situations (albeit hypothetical). Personnel at the club may also suffer. Home-grown Gallagher may be sacrificed, which would be harsh given his improvement and love for the club. Ugochukwu will also likely be loaned due to squad numbers. Casadei has already gone on loan, and adds to a long list of midfielders. With them all being relatively young and on long contracts, will they ever all be able to coexist in a squad?
However, the revamp can be deemed as successful and necessary. The club lost a large amount of personnel there, and as such they have more than replenished their stock. They have rejuvenated a position which has been overrun by players that don’t really suit each other, and has been dysfunctional since the days of Conte’s reign. The lack of a defensive-minded midfielder has hurt Chelsea for a long time, with no real cover in front of a defence. This is now no longer an issue, with fresh legs giving energy to the midfield, and certainly providing greater technical quality. It is also now an area of the pitch that is much better profiled. There is a clear plan in mind for players to suit a system and each other.