The mess in the Chelsea midfield and how to solve it
Throughout this fiasco of a season, Chelsea has had problem after problem, both on and off the pitch, culminating in suspensions, fines, blown leads, draws with Brentford and defeats to QPR, West Ham and Corinthians, among others. The main on-pitch problems seem to have been:
- Lack of control in midfield
- Poor support to the fullbacks
Fernando Torres has been vilified continually by most football fans for the last 2 years. While much of the criticism has been justified, until this season Torres was not automatic first choice and the team didn’t play to his strengths. But the total disinterest showed in many matches cannot be excused, not even by FSW.
Torres excels (or excelled) in 1-on-1 situations that were usually from through balls slipped in by Steven Gerrard, playing just off Torres. This indicated that someone similar was required. Instead, Plan A was for Drogba do give him flick-ons, and with Joe Cole and Lampard in the team there was always creativity. A crisis of confidence, injuries and an alien system were all cited as causes, but the simple truth was that to get the best out of Torres we need a trequartista who specialised in delivering through balls. We’ve got some of them now, but we still don’t see through balls being slipped through. Because our pivot players overload the attack, there is never any space for them to operate in when our opponents use a block defence. This could be solved by having a disciplined midfielder who can accurately deliver long passes and switch the point of attack i.e. a regista. Andrea Poli or Marco Verratti would be good options.
Our current pivot options are Lampard, Ramires and Mikel. All are good players in their own right, but what none of them is dictate the tempo of the game from deep and control the match. Oriol Romeu, Oscar and Josh McEachran can all do this to an extent, but none are elite (yet). This means that when we are defending a lead and the opponents are frantically trying to get back into the game, Chelsea don’t have anyone that can just slow the pace of the game down and keep possession. Again, a regista is needed.
The other big weakness that Chelsea had earlier in the season was the lack of defensive support for the fullbacks. Mazacar was to blame for this, because Hazard and Mata, whilst being world-class creators, gave Cole and Ivanovic basically no help at all, meaning our fullbacks were frequently exposed 2-on-1 because Chelsea could never dominate possession and see the game out. This is still a problem now, and is showing when we throw away leads against West Ham, Saints, Reading and Newcastle. Games that we should certainly have won. A more disciplined, hardworking winger like Victor Moses or Antonio Valencia would have been very useful, but again the root cause of the problem is the centre of midfield, not controlling the play and keeping the opposition pinned back in their own half. With a good regista, we could have just kept possession and driven our opponents deeper and deeper.
Clearly, a regista is what we need. Unfortunately, a good regista is quite rare. Some of the best are Gerrard, Alonso, Pirlo and Xavi, but none of them are on the market, and all are on high wages and are past their peak.
We could try to make one of our own, and McEachran fits the bill nicely. I’m just not quite sure he has the required ability. Romeu, Oscar and De Bruyne are very good in their own right, but aren’t really registas. That’s not to say they couldn’t be converted.
We could look for a very young, talented regista with lots of potential, but these are very rare. The only name that springs to mind is Marco Verratti, and he would be very difficult to prise away from PSG.
Alternatively we could try to get the very best, fully developed, fully priced option. This would be Sergio Busquets or Javi Martinez, who are exceptional players and would solve a lot of problems. They both have age on their side as well, but would be very expensive, at least £30m for either.
So we could just look for the best value for money. The two best options look like Andrea Poli and Nuri Sahin, but they have complications. Poli has a co-ownership agreement between Sampdoria and Juventus, while Sahin is on loan from Real Madrid to Borussia Dortmund until summer 2014.
On balance, I’d go for Verratti, though he wouldn’t come cheap. A bid of £20m might do it, but that’s not too extortionate.
Do you think a regista is the answer to our midfield difficulties, and who is needed? Can Lampard perform the role, should we develop our youngsters or dip into the transfer market? And who should we get.