Who is Xavier Mbuyamba and should we be excited? [Scout Report]

Over the past few days, rumours of the “new Van Dijk”, Xavier Mbuyamba, making his way to SW6 have been heating up, with the Dutchman expected to sign with Chelsea early next week before exploring the possibility of going out on loan for a season. When the rumours first started gathering, I spoke to one of Xavier’s friends, who said that he’d trialled at Cobham in summer 2019, but was unable to join the Blues due to our transfer ban. After searching the opinions of Chelsea fans on Mbuyamba, I quickly realised the most us as a fanbase know is that he stands at 195cm tall (just below 6’5) and that he spent last season at Barcelona. Luckily for you, I watched full game footage of his match against Slavia Praha in the UEFA Youth League, which gave me the ability to analyse his play style, his strengths, and of course, his weaknesses.

During this match, Xavier lined up alongside Spaniard Mika Medina, where the two formed a very functional and successful partnership. Mbuyamba would be the aggressor, constantly applying pressure on his attacker and stepping out of the defensive line while Medina would swoop behind and cover the Dutchman excellently.

From early on in the game Mbuyamba showcased his impressive ability to read the game. On many occasions would the 18 year old anticipate the pass which allowed him to jump in front of the defender and intercept the pass. It was also clear that he had a habit of jumping out of the defensive line in order to meet the incoming attacker head on and make the tackle. Yes, this would create a load of room behind him but due to his centre-back partner’s constant covering, jumping out of the defensive line wasn’t as risky as it may have looked during the game. Defensively, his reading of the game was risky but successful. It was very rare that he would make the wrong decision in terms of his positioning on the defensive end.

The ability to successfully play out from the back is something Frank Lampard clearly looks for in his centre backs, and from watching Xavier during this game, he seemed to tick all the boxes. Once again, his decision making (this time in possession) was very impressive. He never forced the pass and tended to play short passes to the feet of the defensive midfielder or the right back. It’s worth noting that the weight of his passes were good – they got to his team-mates at a good speed which made it very hard for the opposition to intercept them. If I were to be very picky and critical, I’d say that some of his passes to the right back were right into his feet, which made progressing the play slightly harder than it could’ve been if he’d have played his passes in front of/to the back foot of the right back. This would allow the right back to push the ball into the space ahead and therefore progress the play more quickly and simply. The Dutchman was very safe in his passing and very rarely chose the incorrect passing option, however, he wasn’t afraid of playing a long switch of play off his left or right foot if needed. There were occasions where the opposite winger would be in space and he’d effortlessly spray the ball out towards him. His long passing was a clear case of ‘quality over quantity’.

His positional play within possession was very positive. I felt his positioning when his team-mates had the ball allowed him to always offer as a passing option. For example, when the goalkeeper had the ball he would push wide in order to create space in midfield or offer as an option out wide. He’d also leave his defensive line and step into midfield when one of the central midfielders were struggling to find a pass. These are very good signs for a player who’ll be seeing a lot of possession in a Frank Lampard system.

Image source: Daily Express

He also showcased his aerial ability from a corner while marking zonally (similarly to Chelsea for the majority of this season). He was stood just below the penalty spot and managed to beat the attacker who was making a late run into the box. This may seem like something very simple, but if you’re a Chelsea fan, you’d know this is something we’ve been dying for the last two seasons due to our set-piece defending being so poor.

Every player possesses their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s no different with Xavier. There are clear weaknesses in his game that could be a result of his age and inexperience. I noticed early on in the game that he was always the first to a challenge, but would eventually lose the 50/50 due to not being firm enough in the tackle. I feel if he was stronger (or just slightly more confident) going into the challenge, he’d win the ball with ease, but, as mentioned, he’d often win the ball initially but end up losing out due to not being strong enough. This was the case on a few occasions and is a habit that could be costly in the Premier League if not improved (which I’m sure it will – we have to remember that he’s still 18 and has a long way to go in his development). Throughout the game, there were occasions where he’d attempt to dribble past attackers (if there was no passing option) and get caught out. It was clear that his body position when protecting the ball needs to improve as he came across as sloppy when attempting to dribble out of the defensive line. Once again, this fault in his game could be a result of his age and his team-mates not making a good enough effort to create a passing option.

As I said previously, his positional play in and out of possession was excellent, but on occasions Mbuyamba would get sucked out wide in order to help his right back. This could create space behind him near the box, but due to his centre back partners positioning and sweeping, it wasn’t a major issue.

From watching the full 90 minutes, it’s clear Xavier Mbuyamba is a player with a lot of promise and potential. Is the “new Van Dijk” label correct to use? No, because stylistically they’re not similar players at all. If Mbuyamba was to come into this Chelsea starting eleven, I’d play him alongside someone who has good sweeping ability and strong recovery pace to get the best out of his aggressive defensive nature. An Mbuyamba/Tomori or Zouma partnership would work best, based off what I’ve seen of the young Dutch prodigy.

In order to maximise the massive potential he has, Xavier must eliminate those weaknesses out of his game, which I’m sure is more than possible due to his age and current raw ability.

So, what do you think, Chelsea fans? Let us know on our Twitter and Instagram @TheChelseaSpot!

Gladbach put three past Frankfurt in entertaining matchup.

Along with the other talented writers @TheChelseaSpot, I’ve been given a Bundesliga game to cover and monitor certain players that could suit this current Chelsea system under Frank Lampard. The game I chose was the Frankfurt vs Borussia Munchengladbach match which ended with Marco Rose’s Gladbach taking a 1-3 away win which allowed them to overtake Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig and move into third place of the German first division.

When watching the game, there were some clear standout outfield performances, but before I discuss those players, I’d like to give a small mention to both goalkeepers, Yann Sommer and Kevin Trapp, neither of which kept a clean-sheet, but displayed clear ability that could tempt Frank Lampard into making a move in order to compete with Kepa and ensure he improves his game to fulfil his potential. Both keepers showed a strong awareness of the pitch in front of them which allowed them to sweep up any passes that went in-behind the defence. Although it sounds simple, it’s a skill many keepers struggle with getting the grasp of, which can be costly as being a “sweeper keeper” is vital in the modern game.

Frenchman Alassane Plea opened the scoring just 40 seconds into the encounter after a quick give and go with Hoffman before sliding the ball past Kevin Trapp at the far post. The 27 year old showcased very impressive linkup play and movement as he floated across the pitch in what could be seen as a “free role”. Plea was inches from grabbing a second goal as well, after his long range curler from the left side of the pitch hit the crossbar. If that effort had found the back of the net, it would’ve been the clear favourite for “goal of the day” on the return of the Bundesliga. Plea was also very eager to aggressively regain possession for Marco Rose’s side, shown by his three tackles made throughout the game, a stat that’s very impressive when considering Plea isn’t regarded as a defensive player.

Another Frenchman, this time Marcus Thuram doubled the lead for “The Foals” by finishing an easy tap in created by Algerian left back Ramy Bensebaini, who showcased superb trickery throughout the game to beat his defenders and create chances for his teammates. Bensebaini then grabbed a goal, this time from the penalty spot to ensure there was no way back for Frankfurt. Admittedly, I haven’t watched enough of Bensebaini to judge, however, his performance yesterday epitomised the modern full-back, a position that Chelsea clearly are looking to strengthen in the Summer (with the likes of Emerson and Marcos Alonso rumoured as outgoings). At the age of 25, Ramy Bensebaini could be a real coup for Chelsea if deals for the likes of Alex Telles and Ben Chilwell fall through.

It was a very frustrating day for Adi Hutter’s Frankfurt, but the one standout performer for me was Martin Hinteregger (the defender who famously blasted the ball straight at Kepa from the penalty spot in last season’s Europa League semi-final shootout). The old-school, no nonsense centre back occupied the left side of the back four yesterday, showcasing his fearlessness by winning all four of his ground duels and 1 of his three aerial duels. However, don’t be deceived by his old-school defensive style, as the Austrian showcased time and time again that he possesses the qualities to hold his own in a modern day, possession based system. Hinteregger completed 74 passes (the most of any player on the pitch yesterday) at an 85% success rate. To add to this very impressive performance from Hinteregger, the 27 year old also made an off the line clearance to deny Hoffman and Frankfurt from scoring a fourth goal. Although he was on the losing side, Hinteregger was superb yesterday, and will continue to be one of the more underrated centre-backs in the German division. If there was a possibility of Hinteregger making a move to the Premier League, I have no doubts that he’d adapt fairly quickly due to his physical presence and very impressive ball playing ability.

Who was your standout player from the game yesterday? Would you like to see any of the players mentioned at The Bridge this Summer? Let us know @TheChelseaSpot!

FIVE centre backs Chelsea should consider signing this Summer.

For me, this first season under Frank Lampard has been a success. We’ve shown a very clear sign of how dangerous we could become in possession, however, there’s no denying that defensively we have been subpar, which has been proven by the fact we’ve conceded the most goals out of the whole top seven this season. So, I’ve decided to create a list of centre backs who I feel Chelsea should target which would hopefully elevate our defence and take us in a positive direction defensively.

Kalidou Koulibaly

Image Source – CalcioMercato

If you’re looking for a centre back who’d elevate our defence the same way Van Dijk elevated Liverpool’s, Koulibaly is your man. At the experienced age of 28, the Senegalese centre back has shown season after season why he’s up there with the worlds best. He possesses an unbelievable amount of pace and strength which allows him to make recovery challenges if needed, along with a very underrated reading of the game, which allows him to make any challenges before the play has developed and turned into a large chance. The Naples defender also has previous experience playing in a very strong possession based system under Maurizio Sarri, meaning he has the ability to frequently dribble the ball forward and pressurize the defensive block to create space for his team-mates.

His sometimes rash decision making can be his downfall, however, with him occasionally being caught sleeping out of possession which has led to the opposition being gifted big chances. The Napoli chairman, Aurelio De Laurentiis is likely to squeeze every euro possible out of Koulibaly, meaning he could be sold for upwards of £90M, which for a soon to be 29 year old is an extraordinary amount of money.

Dayot Upamecano

Image Source – Football Fan Cast

At 21 years old, I’d like to think of Upamecano as a young version of Koulibaly. Similarly to Koulibaly, the RB Leipzig warrior thrives himself off aggressive challenges and his pace, meaning attackers usually find it very hard to surpass him. Upamecano is also a very solid distributor of the ball, with an 87% passing accuracy across the season. Upamecano is a player who’s not afraid to play a long pass out wide, which is something we’ve missed since the departure of David Luiz last Summer. 

Personally, I don’t think Upamecano would have an instant impact on our defence, and we’d have to wait at least three seasons for him to hit his peak, meaning he’d be another player (like Tomori and Christensen) who’d take time to develop into the centre back we’d rely on. Upamecano’s contract comes to an end in the Summer of 2021, meaning Chelsea could be facing some strong competition to grab the signature of the highly rated French centre half.

Francisco “Ferro” Ferreira

Image Source – SL Benfica

Perhaps the lesser known of the two Benfica centre backs, but one who certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. At 22 years old, Ferro is on the path to becoming the dream centre back in a possession-based system like Frank Lampard’s. Not only does Ferro possess a very strong reading of the game, he’s also one of the best ball distributors and passers I’ve seen (from centre back). He’s able to punch the ball with pace to break the lines of defence which would be a massive asset, especially with strikers like Abraham and Giroud up front.

Unfortunately, Ferro has found to be error prone at times, but I believe it’s simply down to his age and lack of experience playing at the highest level. 

If Lampard is looking to acquire a cheap centre back (Ferro has a market value of below £30M) that would massively suit his ideas, he should seriously be looking at Ferro. 

Nathan Aké

Image Source – Premier League

The rumours of an Aké return to Stamford Bridge have held some weight for quite some time, with Chelsea currently evaluating whether to trigger the £40M buy-back clause labelled on the Dutchman.

As I mentioned, Aké is no stranger to SW6, after spending multiple years out on loan before being sold to ‘The Cherries’ in a July 2017.

Nathan, like most centre halves that I’ve spoken about in this article, is a composed centre back with plenty of experience in a high intensity Bournemouth under Eddie Howe. Aké is usually looked at as the main outlet when playing out from the back, proven by his 989 passes at 89% accuracy this season.

Don’t let his offensive stats fool you into thinking he’s a pretty and soft centre back, as he’s quite the opposite defensively. The Dutchman is an absolute warrior, someone who’ll stick his head on any incoming cross or put his body in the way of any shot. He also holds a very strong positional game, with Aké not having to make a single last ditch tackle so far this season.

£40M for someone nearing his prime is a very good option, and if I had to put my money on who I think Lampard will opt for in the Summer, I’d have to say Aké.

Alessio Romagnoli

Image Source – SempreMilan

Romagnoli is another defender who specialises in sussing out danger before it has even began, with the Italian heavily focusing on interceptions and tackles high up the pitch to prevent the opposition developing play further down the pitch.

Similarly to Koulibaly, the AC Milan defender is very fond of picking the ball up and dribbling into the space ahead of him in order to break the defensive lines of the opposition. This attribute would be massive in a fast pace and energetic Frank Lampard system.

At 25 years old, Romagnoli also possesses real leadership attributes, something I feel we massively miss from our current centre backs at the moment. Romagnoli is the type of defender that would come into the backline and massively improve it due to his communication and leadership qualities alone, that’s without even mentioning his on and off the ball ability.

As Romagnoli is 25, it’s clear he’s at the age where he’s yet to fully hit his prime, but he doesn’t lack inexperience in the big games and won’t be phased by dangerous Premier League opposition. I believe Romagnoli would cost slightly more than £45M if AC Milan we’re looking to sell in the Summer, which is still a very good price in this current market for a centre back who’d vastly improve our defence.

So, tell me what you think. Who out of the centre backs I’ve mentioned would you like Chelsea to sign in the Summer? Are there any centre backs who I’ve missed that you’d like us to sign? Let us know @TheChelseaSpot!

Ruben Diaś, the answer to our defensive problems?

Although Chelsea currently posses many central defenders, I don’t believe these defenders have enough quality to completely fix what is a clear liability within our overall game as a team. Assuming all of our centre backs are at full fitness, I think everyone can agree our strongest centre back partnership is Fikayo Tomori and Andreas Christensen, with Zouma and Rüdiger as back ups. If you were a rival fan, you’d probably think, on paper, our centre back options are very good, but after watching these defenders at Chelsea it’s clear that isn’t fully the case. Antonio Rüdiger tends to lose concentration/make silly decisions within key moments of games, Christensen lacks that inner fire power that’s needed to be a successful centre back (please note, I’m a big fan of Christensen, and if he does sort out his mentality, he has the potential to be a successful, long term option at Stamford Bridge). Kurt Zouma is a proven Premier League defender with a great mentality, although his lack of quality on the ball lets him down from being a first choice option in this Frank Lampard system once Rüdiger is back to full fitness, and Fikayo Tomori simply lacks Premier League experience.

With all of that in mind, I’ve been searching for who could tick most of these boxes and therefore be a successful, long term acquisition for The Blues, and that player is Rúben Dias. At the young age of 22, Dias is no stranger to success. At club level, Dias won the ‘Primeira Liga’ last season, as well as winning the ‘Nations League’ with Portugal this Summer.

Although Dias is only 22, don’t let his age fool you when it comes to experience, because Dias has plenty of it. Excluding his games at Benfica B, Dias as a total of 56 appearances over two seasons in the ‘Primeira Liga’ alone, appearing 24 times in the 2017-2018 season and 32 times last season. In addition to this, Dias has 11 caps for his nation, Portugal, which is quite impressive considering the large amount of centre back options Portugal posses.

Dias has a lot of experience at a young age, which can be very important, but how would he fit in to this Chelsea team and who would he play alongside?

From watching Dias, it’s clear he’s more of an aggressive type centre back who makes tackles that stop a direct attacking threat, Dias is not a sweeper. The fact that Dias isn’t a sweeper means if he played alongside Zouma or Rüdiger (players who are too similar as him in terms of style of play) the defence would be too aggressive which would make it easy for top attacks to break through. For example, a side like Manchester City would tear a Dias/Rüdiger defence apart, like they tore a Luiz/Rüdiger partnership apart at the Etihad last season. If we were to sign Ruben Dias, Christensen playing alongside him would be a must. Christensen’s quality to sweep up through balls is superb, which would allow Dias to do what he does best, make one on one tackles and be aggressive towards the opposition attackers.

One thing that could cost us this is season is the loss of David Luiz’s passing range. At times where we were struggling last season, we could rely on Luiz’s passing range to make a quick switch of play or through ball to our striker, but with Luiz’s departure to Arsenal, that is not now possible. Our defence might struggle on the ball this season, but if we were to sign Dias in the Summer of 2020, this would no longer be a problem. Dias’ ability on the ball is very similar to Luiz’s, he often successfully plays long balls to the Benfica attackers and is a very efficient short passer, which would suit Lampard’s style of play perfectly.

In conclusion, Ruben Dias would be a brilliant signing that wouldn’t be sold for more than €35M, which is a very good deal in today’s market. Dias is an aggressive defender with great passing ability and concentration. Dias would be a massive upgrade on most of (if not all) our centre backs.