Chelsea’s Midfield Minefield

Chelsea’s lack of fluidity in midfield is becoming increasingly alarming. While I cannot doubt the engine and work rate of Ramires, his ability on the ball is not good enough to command the ball playing space in Chelsea’s double pivot. If we are going to persist with playing this shape then Mourinho must make a call about who partners John Obi Mikel.

Mikel proved against Everton, for all his detractors, that he is without question Chelsea’s best option as the defensively minded player in that role. Regardless of how he plays for Nigeria and the potential he has to develop his game at Chelsea, his role is unlikely to change. What must happen is playing someone next to him with the ability to take the game forward and dictate matters when in possession.

The obvious solution is Oscar. He is the only player currently to have shown the ability to influence play consistently from deep. I have spoken at length on this here, but his ability to play on the half-turn, dribble through midfield and look forward has been sorely lacking. Yes, he is playing very well in an advanced role but there is much to be said about his creativity from deep.

The other options are to introduce Marco van Ginkel into the first team picture. I can only imagine that he is getting acclimatised to the pace of things in England, but of all our true central midfielders he was most impressive during preseason. Granted the “it’s only preseason brigade” will probably be out in full force, but pulling the strings against a very strong Real Madrid side is no mean feat.

He is aggressive in the tackle, has a wonderful perception of space both in attack and defence, his use of the ball for someone his age is incisive and he has the physical characteristics to impose himself on opposing midfielders. Ramires is certainly the better athlete, but van Ginkel in my opinion is both a better tackler and distributor.

The other option is slightly more of a risk but in Kevin De Bruyne Chelsea have a potential midfield maestro on their hands. In terms of his skillset De Bruyne already has much of what you would want from a modern central midfielder. His range of passing is exquisite, he can carry the play through the central midfield, he has excellent balance and dribbling ability, but most importantly he can dictate the flow of a game. You only need to catch a glimpse of some of his play for Werder Bremen last season to see that he can influence proceedings centrally.

Things get slightly more complicated when looking at the balance in our attacking trio. While Eden Hazard is leading the league in chances created (or a better way to look at it is passes that lead to shots) he has been quiet by his end of year standards. A lot of this is down to teams now deploying at least two players on him as soon as he comes into possession. Cole, Ramires and whoever is playing in the number ten spot need to give him options quicker. He cannot skip past 2-3 players every time he touches the ball.

The fluidity of our front three is something that should be helped by either starting Kevin De Bruyne or Willian on the right hand side. People seem to forget that despite Schürrle being right footed, he is very much someone who is used to playing on the left hand side. His natural movement is always to come inside and shoot, not to attack the line and cross. De Bruyne gave natural balance against Hull and Willian is equally capable of playing on the right or left. We need someone to offer a threat on the opposite flank to Eden Hazard, if only to give the Belgian more opportunities to receive the ball in space.

The Oscar or Mata debate is something that seems to be an ongoing question that needs resolving. While Oscar has undoubtedly started very bright in his preferred role, we have missed the mercurial and talismanic qualities of an in-form Juan Mata. Oscar can certainly be an effective outlet out wide, at a push, but also in a deeper role. Mata, conversely, is more capable of playing centrally than as a winger. Balancing our side and actually playing our best players is something that seems a very difficult task to achieve if Oscar continues to play in an advanced role. The right hand berth is Willian’s or De Bruyne’s as things stand. Schürrle should primarily be used as an alternative to Eden Hazard and not on the opposite flank.

Nevertheless the persistent issue at the club is converting chances. If we have looked at Eto’o as our answer in the short-term why on earth did we deem Drogba past his best? I do not buy into the sentimentality answer of “his last kick” – he would still be the best striker at the club now. We are going to live and die by our finishing ability this season. Everton was not our best performance but we could easily have had three or four goals by the time they scored. Our finishing cost us against Bayern as well and we had a few half chances at Old Trafford that we did very little with. Unless our speed of transition changes or our finishing drastically improves this could be quite a slow season for Chelsea fans.