Let me start off with this quote from Jose Mourinho on our midfield giant, namely Nemanja Matic, and I take it there’s not even a single Chelsea fan here who won’t agree with the following:
“He (Matic) is the best player. He was signed in the most difficult market which is for the players who are coming in mid-season, so the last half of the season was for him to improve, not adaptation, as he was a Chelsea player before, but to improve. At this moment, he is a giant, not for his size but for the way he plays. The man is a giant.”
Nothing exaggerated but surely an understatement; the above quotes from the manager! Just shows you how important the Serbian has been for the Blues this season.
As everyone is well aware, we started this season with a bang, taking the league by storm with some absolutely wonderful performances involving high pressing tactics and of course, a more attacking style of play, something we aren’t accustomed to as Chelsea fans.
John Terry and Gary Cahill/Kurt Zouma have been monstrous at the back, playing a high line and putting up some good performances for us. Sure, both the Englishmen deserve the credit for their good displays in defense, but there’s no doubt that it was only made possible because of a certain monstrous, Makelele-ish sort of rock standing in front of our back four who made it almost impossible for the opposition players to get past him in the midfield. Thus shielding our defense and negating any chance of us getting caught on the break.
It is a well-known fact that Nemanja Matic was our most important and irreplaceable player in the first half of the season, but what we didn’t know or maybe didn’t want to accept about the Serbian was that he is still human and things like fatigue/injury or suspension were going to affect him and the team in the long run. If only he were a robot!
Come January, the big Serbian started showing signs of fatigue and some odd suspensions meant, Jose Mourinho had to find a suitable replacement for Matic in the Defensive Midfield. So the obvious option? John Obi Mikel!
The Problem With Mikel
People tend to divide opinions on the Nigerian. But there’s no doubt that no matter how good Mikel can be on the pitch, he can never replace a player of the caliber of Matic! You will probably want some stats to support that proof, right? Well, here they are:
According to Squawka, Among the 13 appearances Mikel has made for Chelsea this season, the Nigerian has an average of just 2 defensive actions per game compared to Matic’s 6. That’s a huge difference for a Defensive Midfielder. Matic has also created 20 chances for the Blues upfront compared to just two from Mikel. Granted, Matic has played twice as many games as Mikel but there’s a reason for that.
As a utility player, who can come on at the 60th-minute mark to close out the games we are comfortably leading, Mikel can be quite useful and handy, but overall, his game is very one-dimensional as the Nigerian is only involved in the defense and has little to no attacking attributes. Compare that to Matic’s dribbling skills which can sometimes even outshine one of the best in his position, and we are talking about a large difference in quality between the two.
Now, as one of the best teams in Europe, we have no room for mediocrity. Being content with finishing in the top four in the league and qualifying for the knock-out stages in CL doesn’t make our season successful, unlike other London clubs. Besides, we actually do understand the importance of a DM! ( Arsene Wenger must be wondering).
And for that, we need able replacements who can not only cover for Matic whenever he is injured/suspended/fatigued, but can also start alongside him against big sides with a physical midfield. Let’s be honest, Fabregas is a treat, a maestro, against small “park the bus” sides, but against a physical, imposing, fast midfield, the Spaniard is a liability defensively as we have so far observed this season. So, let’s take a look at the couple of players who can solve this problem in the next season for us:
Why look outside when you have got just the right man for the job right under your nose? Apparently, Jose believes it too:
“At the age of 18, 19 sometimes you don’t believe that the player can go in a certain direction so you make a couple of million [by selling him] and you are just happy with that. At academy level you know clearly that not everyone is going to be players for your first team. So sometimes if you can capitalise on that and make money in small deals you can make the money you need to invest again and again and again in the academy, to get the right talents that you bring to the first team. And [those] you bring to stay [in the first team]. I can say now, Loftus-Cheek is to stay. To stay. And I think to stay and to play. I think next year to play not just to stay. Stay and play.”
Apart from that mind-boggling “Stay-and-play” perception in the end by Jose, it is obvious that the Portuguese rates him very highly. There aren’t many in the world who have been lucky enough to hear words of praise from the “special one” himself, but RLC is definitely one of them.
The manager has talked a lot about the 19-year-old, 6ft. 4inch tall English midfielder in the past few months and for obvious reasons. The youngster has been our best youth player for quite a few years now and if there is any player you can bet your life on, who is good enough to start regularly for Chelsea in the next few years, it’s definitely RLC! And even Jose’s recent quotes implies so. Here’s another one from the Portuguese:
“Next season Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be competing for a first team position. At the moment, we are protecting him.”
Amen to that Jose! We would absolutely love to see an academy graduate make it to the first team and regularly start for us. Ala our new Terry!
So, what’s the hype around this kid anyway? Most of the fans have just seen his 7-minute cameo against Sporting Lisbon in the CL but other than that, he is an unknown commodity.
Well, sure he hasn’t got the experience to play on the biggest stage but after watching him play at the youth level, there’s not a single doubt in my mind that the young midfielder has got the talent and physique to be a success in the PL. His close ball control, wonderful passing skills, speed and also his ability to start quick counter attacks makes him a complete midfielder. Maybe some day he would be good enough to cover for Nemanja Matic in his absence and even start alongside him after gaining some experience against teams with a physical midfield.
To top it off, Ruben also idolizes Matic in training:
“I try to watch Nemanja defensively because I don’t think there’s anyone better than him in that role as a defensive midfielder, and that’s what I think I need to improve on. I watch him and try to pick up things. I do like attacking more, but I enjoy defending as well. I like both parts of the game.”
Keep doing that Ruben, and you would get the opportunity you deserve next season. Hopefully!
As good an option as RLC seems, it is entirely possible that we move for someone more experienced in the summer. Someone who doesn’t need many chances to adapt to the league, who is already a complete midfielder, and someone who we can trust into our starting eleven without many doubts surrounding him. Morgan Schneiderlin ticks all those boxes and personally, he would be my first choice if we are indeed going to buy a CM this summer.
Currently plying his trade at Southampton, Schneiderlin has been to the Saints what Matic has been to the Blues; Irreplaceable! Whatever Southampton has achieved this season, a large part of it has been down to Morgan Schneiderlin’s partnership with Victor Wanyama in the middle of the pitch. The French midfielder has been one of the best CM’s in the league this season. There’s no doubt that he would be a more than able replacement to Matic in his absence and can even start alongside him, a partnership which could go on to become one of the best in Europe.
Previously, we compared some of Mikel’s stats with Matic and showed you why the Nigerian is not good enough for us in that role. Now let’s do the same with Schneiderlin:
Compared to Matic’s 27 appearance in the league, the Frenchman has made 22 appearances for the Saints. In these appearances, Schneiderlin has scored three goals for his team compared to Matic’s 1, while, he has also has fewer bookings and almost the same number of chances created and average defensive actions per game.
Again, granted that Schneiderlin plays for a club with much lower ambition and pressure compared to Chelsea, those stats still clearly show how good the Frenchman can be as a midfielder. If we do go for a defensive midfielder in the summer, Jose Mourinho might want to take a look at Morgan Schneiderlin, who is reportedly open to a move to a Champions League club this summer.
“I no longer want to be in front of my TV every Tuesday and Wednesday. In August, I wanted to progress my career but the club had let too many players go to sell me. Since then, I have had talks with the directors, and I want to play at a higher level. It is important, at 25-years-old, to finally play in the Champions League.”
So the 25-year-old has made it pretty clear to his club and there’s no way he is staying beyond this season. The perfect opportunity to get him as he won’t cost an astronomical fee either. Please consider it Jose!
THE POGBA FEVER
Quite a few Blues fans have been demanding a possible Paul Pogba deal as Pogba fever seems to be the new trend going on these days. I personally think that Paul Pogba is a very good player. Though still untested in the big league, I am sure that if he does come to Chelsea, there’s a big chance that he would be a huge hit at Stamford Bridge. But, with Paul Pogba comes a huge price tag, and his weekly salary would be closer to, if not more than our highest earner Eden Hazard. Not only that, having Pogba also means he has to to start every game or at least most of our games. Meaning, we would have to sacrifice one of Oscar or Fabregas from our starting eleven and change our formation to adjust Pogba into the side.
So, a player like Pogba won’t be content with a bit part role but would demand his permanent place in the line-up. The same reason I don’t find sense in going into details about the Juventus star. A Ruben-Loftus-Cheek or a Morgan Schneiderlin would be good enough to replace an absent Matic.
Other loanees such as Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah, Oriol Romeu (who, for the record, is having a very good season) and Mario Pasalic have shown some promise too for the future while Marco Van Ginkel has been out injured for most of the season. It could be a delight if any one of these players can turn out to be the next superstar in the future but as for next season, RLC seems to be the real deal among the younger ones.
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Edited By: Ojas Tripathi