Chelsea have long been an institution containing some of the finest midfielders that the world has to offer. Among our list of talented alumni are: Frank Lampard, the greatest goal scoring midfielder the Premier League has ever seen, one of the finest defensive midfielders of this century in Makélélé , and artistic geniuses aplenty including Deco, Ballack and Mata to name a few. So to suggest that Chelsea currently have potentially their strongest ever midfield in terms of quality and depth may seem outlandish to some, but could in fact be the reality. With the defensive nous provided by Kanté, the distribution of Jorginho and the ball carrying and general mercurial play of Kovacic we have one of Europe’s strongest midfields. Throw in the rapidly improving Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek as well as the promising talents of Gilmour, Gallagher and Ampadu and Chelsea are set to challenge for major titles across the decade to come. Being coached by a midfield great in Lampard will only further their development and could take our midfield to a whole new level. In part two of my 2019/20 season review so far, I will be ranking our midfielders and manager out of ten as subjectively as possible. Please bear in mind that we all have different opinions and I am just trying to reflect the views of the majority of the fan base in this article. Without further ado, let us dive in…
Potentially the only position in our side which does not need attention this summer is our midfield. We have been blessed with talent in abundance in this position, so much so that a debate is raging over whether or not we should cash in on our World Cup winner and PFA player of the season 2016/17, N’Golo Kanté, such is our depth in midfield. With Frank Lampard’s originally favoured 4-2-3-1 quickly turning into a more successful 4-3-3 following our difficult start to the season, Chelsea tend to line up with a deep-lying play maker – usually Jorginho – behind two ball-carrying central midfielders, in theory Kanté and Kovacic. In important away games domestically and in Europe a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 formation has been applied, only requiring 2 central midfielders in a pivot, therefore causing a big name to be left out. The only nailed on starter in the centre of the park for us this season has been Mateo Kovacic, who has excelled after being bought in for £40 million in the summer window. After struggling on loan last year and predictably splitting game time with Ross Barkley, he has kicked on and has been one of the best midfielders in Europe this season. He has made the fee we paid for him look to be an absolute bargain, as well as embarrassing the Real Madrid hierarchy who decided to let him go. With Billy Gilmour showing his incredible potential, as well as Connor Gallagher and Ethan Ampadu as two young talents returning from loan spells, not to mention Ruben Loftus-Cheek set to return from his long term injury, Chelsea’s quality and depth in midfield next season will be staggering.
Kovacic: Undoubtedly our player of the season, the Croat has been unbelievable in almost every game. Under Sarri it was never clear where his strengths lay other than as a ball carrier and fans wondered what he brought to our team, with some sceptical as to why his move was made permanent. On top of this he copped some flak for his part in one of the most predictable substitution patterns in the league last season: Ross Barkley for Kovacic (or vice versa). This season has been an entirely different story, with his strengths shining as clear as day. With the number 17 on his back, one could be forgiven for confusing him with a young Eden Hazard, his 2.8 dribbles per league game the same as Kylian Mbappe and the fourth highest out of central midfielders in Europe. In the Champions League he has put up a scarcely believable 4.1 dribbles a game as he dragged us, almost single handedly at times, through our difficult group and was the one bright spark in our last 16 first leg thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich. With 2.7 tackles and interceptions every league game as well as a 90% pass completion rate, Kovacic is close to being the complete midfielder. If he can improve his end product (he still has 2 goals and 3 assists in the league and Europe this season), we will be looking at one of the best players in the world.
Photo credit: goal.com
Jorginho: It has been a very mixed season for our Italian number 5. Fabregas last season described him as Sarri’s ‘son’ when criticising the favouritism shown by the former Napoli boss to the man he brought over from Italy with him, and the fans never warmed to Jorginho. However, he has managed to turn it around. Given his own chant and made vice-captain by Lampard, he shows his passion for the badge in every game. He has endeared himself to fans even further with a goal in each game against Arsenal, which have made up two of his 6 goals and assists in all competitions in 2019/20. His season peaked with his mind boggling assist for Tammy Abraham in our 2-1 win at Watford in early November, before his form declined during our resulting rough form. When he plays he still dictates our rhythm, with 71 passes at an 88% completion rate per league game this season, however it’s his defensive work that threatens his place in the starting line up. Although he is never lacking effort or backing out of tackles, Jorginho simply doesn’t have the pace to screen what is our weakest defence in a generation and hasn’t been able to shake off criticism that he’s pushed Kanté out of the position that he’s world class in. First by Sarri and now by Lampard, Jorginho has been played as almost a regista in a position which has so long been that of the destroyer in great Chelsea sides; Kanté, Matic, Makelele etc. Unfortunate to be in a position previously filled by Kanté, Jorginho could potentially move on in the summer, with Billy Gilmour arguably possessing all of his distribution abilities as well as improved pace and defensive actions at a much younger age. Whatever happens this summer, Jorginho has coped with so much for the past two seasons and has still come through with plenty of excellent performances. A leader in a side sorely lacking leadership, it is this writer’s opinion that the Italian should be kept at the Bridge next season.
Photo credit: talkSPORT
Kanté: This has been by far his weakest season since moving to England. Famously winning back to back titles, first with Leicester and then with Chelsea, Kanté was one of the most sought after players in the world. Playing through an injury in our massive 4-1 win over Arsenal in the Europa League final may not have been a wise move by Sarri in hindsight, with the midfielder never getting a chance to recover as he was thrust into a young Chelsea side this season before he was fully match fit. Showing early glimpses of his best form, including one of the best performances I have ever seen from a midfielder in our penalty loss to Liverpool in the European Super Cup final, as well as a superb display capped by a goal in our narrow defeat against Manchester City, his form quickly fell off a cliff. Always seemingly rushed back before being fully recovered, the strain on Kanté’s body may have started to show. At 29 he may have passed his peak as his game relies so much on his pace, ability to cover ground and his strength in the tackle, all of which deteriorate with age. Starting only 16 of the available 29 league games shows how injury hit the French man has been, although his 4.2 tackles and interceptions per game in a possession dominant side is still reasonably impressive. There is still a world class player in Kanté and this rest may be enough for him to rediscover something approaching his best form. On his day he is good enough to slot into any side in Europe, and after seemingly committing his future to Chelsea recently, a fully fit Kanté could massively improve us next season, especially if he is played in his natural position of central defensive midfielder.
Mount: A Chelsea player from the age of six, Mount led the academy graduate charge into the first team along with Tammy Abraham. Having starred in the championship under Lampard’s stewardship at Derby, it always felt likely that Mount would win a place in the first team due to his manager’s faith in him. He also had the stats to justify his starting position with 17 goals and assists last season at Derby as well as 23 in the season before that as he tested his mettle in the Netherlands with Vitesse Arnhem. Young Mason quickly repaid Lampard for the faith he’d shown in his protégé, starting the season in blistering form with goals against Leicester, Norwich and Wolves as he hit the net in three of his first five league appearances. Comparisons with the greatest goal scoring midfielder the league had ever seen quickly arose, with Lampard clearly having a big impact on the youngster, who was only 20 years of age at the start of the season. However, despite always showing great desire and intense pressing ability, Mount went on a barren run, scoring only once between November and February (a fantastic volley against Aston Villa). A large chunk of our fan base quickly piled on his back, claiming that he was only starting due to Lampard’s supposed favouritism of him and the managers bias towards English players. This criticism was somewhat unfair as despite not scoring he still registered 1.5 key passes a game and created many chances which were spurned by our ineffective front line. The general dip in form was pinned on him by many, but the youngster remained thick skinned and continued to work hard to improve. An incredible display against Spurs in a 2-1 home win where his pressing and creativity were phenomenal was followed by a brilliant turn and shot against Everton to end an 18 game run without hitting the back of the net, showing that he had clearly upped his game before the break in the season. Often played on the wing despite being a central midfielder, a number 10 at a push, Mount always puts the team first and will continue to play a big role in our side next season.
Photo credit: http://www.si.com
Barkley: It feels like we have been here before. A brilliant preseason followed by an underwhelming campaign feels almost cyclical for our talented yet inconsistent Liverpudlian. Six goals in a dazzling preseason led many to believe that he could secure a place in Lampard’s side, however his behaviour off the pitch once again cost him, with drunken commotions and embarrassing photos taken when he was worse for wear in the back of a cab being leaked to the press. His return of 3 league assists from only 8 starts is not too shabby and he built up some momentum before the season prematurely came to a halt. An excellent performances against Spurs was followed by a glorious goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup and a couple of superb assists against his former side Everton in the league. It may be too late for Barkley to save his Chelsea career, but there is a unique talent inside him that could come out if he was given a consistent run of games.
Rating: 6/10 (from limited minutes)
Photo credit: Daily Mail
Note that despite Gilmour’s amazing introduction to life in the first team, with back to back man of the match awards against Liverpool and Everton, he hasn’t played enough for me to rate him across the season. I for one am extremely excited to see much more of him in the league next season, and believe that you should be too!
It has been a steep learning curve for Super Frank. Faced with a transfer ban, it seemed to many that our young manager would be unable to make his mark on the team, but he quickly set about proving that theory wrong. The fans were finally given what they longed for as academy graduates were promoted to the first team and Lampard quickly instilled a more direct brand of football than the infamous ‘Sarri-ball’, which at times last season had bored us all to tears. Even with these early positive moves, many expected a difficult season to lay ahead for Chelsea, especially after the opening day hammering at Old Trafford. An excellent first third of the season followed, however, as Chelsea quickly became the neutral fans favourite side; full of fast, neat build up play and exciting ball carrying players. After the big step up from Championship side Derby it was always obvious that Lampard would have to learn on the job, something which hasn’t been eased by a consistent stream of injuries to crucial first team players (don’t forget that Loftus-Cheek has yet to appear this season and Pulisic has played in fewer than half of the available minutes). The Chelsea legend has taken it all in his stride as he’s pushed a team at times shorn of most of its quality into the top four, as well as the knockout stages of the Champions League. Despite our mid season drop-off which has made us fight for our place in next season’s Champions League when earlier it seemed it would be a simple task getting in, if we were offered a place in the top four at the start of the season when Frank first took the reigns, we’d have all snapped it up in an instant. It has been a very strong start by our new manager, one which has included tactical masterclasses such as the deployment of a 3-4-2-1 against Spurs away as Lampard beat his former boss Jose Mourinho in a game of great sentimental importance to our whole club, as well as the blooding of some ridiculously talented youngsters (James, Tomori, Mount, Abraham and Gilmour to name a few). With all of the experience he has gained this season, combined with a few key signings, Chelsea could make inroads into the gap separating us from the Man City/Liverpool duopoly next season and soon we could have a title winning side on our hands. The signs are good, so let’s enjoy the journey, after all we’ve got Super Frankie Lampard and he knows exactly what we need…
Photo credit: Football London
I hope you have enjoyed reading part two of my season review and are feeling as optimistic about the coming years as I am. After a couple of slightly sullen seasons we have got our Chelsea back and that is a thought that can keep us all going during these uncertain times. Keep safe and well and keep the blue flag flying high.
Written by Daniel New