This current Chelsea midfield looks pretty much exciting on paper and in real sense making it quite a headache for any analyst or a fan to make his/her pick just at a glance. Even though I agree that every coach has a set of ‘first’ eleven players at the back of his mind, it is also imperative that every match determine the kind of player(s) to employ. Over the years, José has always gone in for robust and hard tackling players but again he has always had an eye for players with flair, speed and technique – Robben, Duff, Joe Cole, Wright-Phillips, Pandev, Di Maria, Ozil, in the past.
With the players at his disposal now: Lampard, Essien, Mikel, Ramires, Oscar, Mata, Willian, Schurrle, Hazard, Van Ginkel, De Bruyne, José has more than enough to make his ‘engine’ start work. This group has all that it takes to be successful in the modern game – experience, technique, skill, flair, speed, big game mentality and above all, quality. The subject subsequently becomes ‘who starts and where?’
As hard as it is dealing with who gets to start in a game, I think that being sentimental too does not help and I wish not to throughout this write up. Moving on, the midfield will be tackled on two fronts- the defensive and the attacking side. I believe very much that the players for each of the roles should be assessed before their roles can be assigned.
José has clearly shown that his preferred formation is the 4-2-3-1, at times switching to 4-3-3 as shown in preseason and in certain games a 3-5-2 formation in our matches played so far. I believe strongly that the versatility of each player is a key element of the players that will make up the starting eleven. From the squad, Ramires, Oscar, and De Bruyne seem the most versatile. These lads can play through the middle (offensively and defensively) and on the wings, their work rate looks very enviable and they approach each game as important as ever.
Ramires has been very impressive so far with his high sense of tactical awareness; he makes sure to cover every ground within his space assigned. Again, admiration goes for his play this season, in that, even though he doesn’t make those rampaging runs often, he shows that he still has it when he’s presented with the chance to! Surprisingly, he recovers back with the same level of athleticism, no wonder he’s nicknamed ‘Queniano Azul’ (The ‘Blue Kenyan’)! He reminds me so much of Michael Essien back in 2005 and 2006; boy, what a machine he was! His passing, however, mostly keeps fans pointing accusing fingers especially when things are getting tough and rough for the team. He can only get better, I believe.
Oscar is the sort of modern midfield player every team would like: not afraid of tackles, constant runner in 90 minutes and beyond, and makes goals look so simple and beautiful. Ask Gigi Buffon! Even though he’s mostly employed in the ‘Number 10’ role, he doesn’t mind switching play with Mata and Hazard
when they’re on the pitch (as seen last season). His inter positional play is almost perfect and has been one of José’s regulars so far and that is deservedly so. You can’t afford to leave him out if you want the Oscar!
De Bruyne was one player I doubted when José made it clear that he will be staying and not going on loan. The question asked at the time was, ‘is he the kind of player we need?’ but at the end of preseason tour in Asia, he was the very player I wished would be starting each game! The confidence and technique with which he plays is as though he has been in the first team since. His work rate is amazing and the defence splitting passes are always on point. I still believe he has a lot to learn and he is in no doubt of ‘big guys’ to look up to in the team.
Mikel, the unsung hero, was one of the regulars in the side last year and he was very integral to the team. His timely blocks and tackles have always been great and the kind of poise he exhibits when he’s in possession makes you nod at the level of development he has had over the years. That notwithstanding, Mikel has failed to reproduce the kind of performances he gives when he’s in a Super Eagles’ shirt. His admirers mostly talk about roles being different but the square and diagonal passes which he has become renowned for are certainly not about roles! With Essien coming in again and wanting to prove a point, Mikel has to show why Di Matteo had so much confidence in him (although RDM is gone) and gave him an almost ‘unchallenged’ position. He has the stature, energy and strength that every defensive midfielder would wish for and I believe he can hit the mark BUT unless he convinces José.
Super Frankie has also been one of the regulars so far although I believe that, it is not going to be the case throughout this season. José has always been a good motivator and makes players especially the ‘old guard’ feel important and that is exactly what he’s doing. As hard as I try to keep my love for Lamps away from this piece, I feel honoured at the same time to say he’s my favorite Chelsea player! (pardon my ‘over indulgence’.*smiling*).
Evidently, anytime Lamps plays, Ramires has had to do extra work because Lamps is naturally a born scorer and he won’t hesistate to get in the box at anytime. He makes the ‘double pivot’ role difficult with whomever he plays with but his experience always pushes the team to get the work done! He pops in with the goals when you least expected and his command of the midfield looks great. At age 35, every player will admonish his desire to train harder and harder. No wonder, he’s the last to leave the training grounds on most occasions. With Lamps around, van Ginkel will benefit a lot when he starts playing and José knows this.
‘He told me to be more adventurous with my play and was happy to coach Ronaldo. He’ll make me his Ronaldo because he believes in me’. Those were the words Hazard said José told him and has been telling him ever since he returned to the Bridge. Should there be talk of confidence now? Certainly not! With the
kind of play Hazard has shown in the opening four games notably The Super Cup, we’re in for a season to remember from the young Belgian. He has also improved his defensive duties quite a bit. He is for me on any day a starter and will deliver, especially with José at the helm.
Another player I doubted was Schurrle but with the level of enthusiasm which he has grabbed his chances, he’ll certainly be a thorn in the flesh of opponents. His link up play has been good so far and his quick run-ins have been one worthy of note. He quickly joins to defend when not in possession and that is how hungry and eager he is to make the mark at Chelsea. It is not surprising to me that he’s got some call ups to the national team lately. Willian Borges, (Spurs fans must be fuming!) is one addition that is in the right direction. He is quick, skillful, confident to dribble, a good passer, and has a lot of tricks with the ball. Those are some of the attributes of the new Brazilian in our set. Above all, he also has a very wild shot anytime he shoots! He is yet to blend in to the team but I believe it shouldn’t be hard for him. He comes at a point in his career where his country is hosting the world cup and he’s going to play in top flight league. Does that ring a bell?
Now, what is the Mata? The Chelsea number 10 is so far one of our forwards who has failed to get more minutes on the field than in the press! Some people and fans keep making the point that he’s not in José’s plans because he can’t defend and blah blah blah…don’t make me laugh! The reasons for him not playing have been repeated over and over again with the player himself admitting to his low match fitness at the start of the season. Mata has been the most consistent playmaker over the past two years in Chelsea and the EPL at large (I stand to be corrected). His link up play with any forwards he plays with (notably Oscar and Hazard) was a delight to watch last season. The precision with his passes is amazing and his big game mentality has improved significantly ever since he joined. In his first start of the season, he was noticeably not ‘match-ready’ and looked off-sync especially playing on the wings. Mata was our livewire last season and with the quality of players to augment his ‘magic’, we’re in for a great season to remember!
The midfield at Chelsea now is the envy of any opposing team (both fans and management). Does it not look funny with the kind of ‘panic buys’ our neighbours have gone in for? Hahahaahahahaha. Unfortunately I’ll not predict my midfield set up and hope to give my line up when the attack has been discussed. #KTBFFH #TRUSTJOSÉ