A crucial cog in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19, Matthjis de Ligt announced himself to the football world with his dominant, mature performances in defence, captaining the Dutch side at just 19 years of age. Like many of his Ajax teammates, de Ligt went on to complete an expensive transfer away from Amsterdam, costing Juventus in the region of €75m for his services. Now 22, the centre half is rumoured to be on the move once again, with Thomas Tuchel keen to bring the 2018 Golden Boy winner to Stamford Bridge, as part of Chelsea’s defensive rebuild. Following the outgoings of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, this summer promises to be of mass importance for the Blues, but what would de Ligt bring to the squad, should he sign?
Stylistically, de Ligt has traits that both Rudiger and Christensen demonstrate, making him a perfect replacement in Tuchel’s back three. In the Serie A last season, the Dutchman averaged 2.9 aerial duels won per game, which is over one more per game than Rudiger. As well as this, de Ligt chipped in with three goals from set piece situations, the same number as the Real Madrid-bound defender. Much like Rudiger, de Ligt’s defensive style is very aggressive, as he looks to smother attackers, not allowing them time on the ball. This trait will help Chelsea to replace the edge that Rudiger brought to the team, and that has been present in every successful Chelsea side of the Premier League era.
Although a frustrating figure among some sections of Chelsea supporters throughout his tenure at Stamford Bridge, Christensen’s contribution to the club cannot be undervalued, playing a pivotal role in winning the Champions League in 2021, including a monstrous performance off the bench against Manchester City in the final. The 26-year-old is another who has departed the Blues this summer, with a move to Barcelona being heavily rumoured. One of the Dane’s greatest strengths was his ability on the ball, displaying a calm eagerness to play out from the back, an aptness which de Ligt will have to replicate if he is brought to West London. The former Ajax man averaged 2.76 progressive ball carries per 90 during the 2021-22 season, as well as 1.58 progressive passes per 90, statistics which Tuchel will look to build on should de Ligt transfer to the club.
One of the principal qualities that rose de Ligt to stardom is his leadership, which saw him claim the captain’s armband at Ajax aged 19. As Chelsea look to the future, with players such as Mason Mount, Reece James and Kai Havertz emerging as star players, adding a young player with a big personality to the back line is crucial to the spine they need to build. Alongside the vastly experienced Thiago Silva, de Ligt can continue his development both as a defender and mentally, with Silva possessing desirable leadership qualities in his own right.
Signing one of the most sought-after young defenders of the past decade would not only prove to be a huge statement signing under the new Todd Boehly-led regime, but it would also open up possibilities in terms of team selection for Tuchel. While tending to favour a more defensively compact 3-4-3, fans and pundits alike have pondered over whether the German coach may look to implement a four-at-the-back system more regularly, having experimented with the possibility sporadically last season. However, before making the switch, it is vital that the powers that be at Chelsea Football Club address the midfield, in particular by bringing in a natural defensive midfielder, a position that has been neglected since the sale of Nemanja Matic in 2017.
Featured image: Anton Zaitsev https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en