By Liam Twomey
After six months of watching Fernando Torres toil largely in vain up front, Chelsea fans have at long last seen the dire need for a striker of genuine goalscoring quality addressed by the January signing of Demba Ba from Newcastle.
Either Atletico Madrid sensation Falcao or Napoli star Edinson Cavani will surely be courted again in the summer unless the Spaniard miraculously re-finds his brilliant best, but the presence of the Senegalese striker will negate the need for any further attacking additions in this transfer window.
The arrival of Ba means Chelsea can now field a starting XI which is arguably a match for any other in the country. Yet there is one other area of his squad which Rafa Benitez should be looking to strengthen, even though the level of his influence on club transfer policy is debatable.
With Jon Obi Mikel on Afcon duty with Nigeria, Oriol Romeu on the long-term injury list and Michael Essien continuing his mysterious loan spell with Real Madrid, Ramires and Frank Lampard are the club’s only fit specialist central midfielders, although David Luiz has also filled in with distinction in recent weeks.
Invariably it is Ramires who ends up playing the holding role in Mikel’s absence. He is reasonably capable, having occupied a deeper position alongside the Nigerian quite regularly this season, but it is not a position which makes full use of his considerable assets.
Ramires’ most dangerous attribute is his ability to carry the ball with pace and purpose through the middle of the pitch and, in full flight, he is a joy to behold. Last season, Mousa Dembele (2.2) and Luka Modric (1.8) were the only central midfielders in the Premier League who completed more successful dribbles per match than ‘the blue Kenyan’ (1.4).
This term, the Brazilian’s less spectacular qualities have been highlighted as he has thrown himself into his greater defensive responsibilities. He is the eighth most prolific tackler in the division (69) and boasts a 79.71% success rate, up from 74.7% last season, while his pass completion rate has remained steady at around 85%.
|CHELSEA'S MIDFIELD VOID
|LA LIGA CANDIDATES
Ignacio Camacho, Malaga"One of the unsung heroes in a Malaga side expected to struggle without Santi Cazorla this season, Camacho is a strong and disciplined central midfielder with good technical abilities and an eye for goal. He has represented Spain at Under-15, U17, U18, U19 and Under-21 level. At 22, he is now pushing for selection in the full squad and playing the best football of his career under Manuel Pellegrini."
Ever Banega, Valencia
"His troublesome time at Valencia has seen him suffer as his car caught fire and he also ran over his own foot, but behind the freak injuries and bad luck is an excellent player and the Argentine has shown since his return that he is one of the best holding midfielders in the league. And, at 24, he is approaching his peak."Ben Hayward, Spanish football expert
Everton’s Marouane Fellaini has been widely reported as the top target, with reports Chelsea are willing to trigger the release clause in his contract, believed to be in excess of £25 million.
If true, it’s not hard to see the attraction. Standing at over 6ft 3in, Fellaini is a supreme physical specimen blessed with deceptively good technical skills and impressive tactical versatility, enabling him to be deployed effectively anywhere from holding midfield to up front.
His formidable aerial threat – no Premier League midfielder has won more aerial duels per game than the Belgian (4.5) this season – would also add a new dimension to an increasingly diminutive Blues midfield.
The Blues do of course have a ready made holding midfielder in John Obi Mikel but the stats favour the Belgian, with Fellaini matching Mikel's number of tackles (37) despite operating further forward. The caveat is that Fellaini has played more minutes (1615) than the Nigerian (1276). With a £25 million-plus release clause in his contract, Fellaini does not come cheap though.
With this in mind, it might be wiser for Chelsea to consider some less obvious names at home and abroad. Two of the best candidates from England’s top flight are Swansea’s Ki Sung-Yueng and Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin.
Ki has filled the considerable boots of Joe Allen with ease since moving from Celtic in the summer, after impressing with South Korea at the Olympics. While not the physical presence that Fellaini is, he can hold his own in a challenge and is reliable in possession – only Mikel Arteta (92.6%) has a higher pass completion rate than Ki (92.51%) in the Premier League this season.
He rarely plays the incisive ball – only 22.03% of his 1037 accurate passes this season have been forward – but alongside Ramires and surrounded by the creative talents of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, Ki's pragmatism might prove wise at the heart of a frighteningly attack-minded midfield.
Schneiderlin, meanwhile, would provide the Chelsea midfield with teeth. The Frenchman has registered more tackles (90) than any other player in the top flight this term, and also boasts relatively impressive passing and aerial stats. Moreover, given the respective fortunes of Swansea and Southampton this season, he might also be the more realistic option.
|BENITEZ PLEASED WITH WIN
|14/1||Chelsea are 14/1 with bet365 to beat Swansea 3-0 in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night
Of course, Benitez may well decide he already has the man for the holding job in the mercurial figure of Luiz. But if the mop-haired Brazilian is to move forward on a more permanent basis, then Chelsea might instead be in the market for another mobile, ball-playing centre-back. Goal.com’s Italian football expert Kris Voakes believes Serie A might be a good place to look.
Torino’s Angelo Ogbonna is his top pick. “With great strength, positioning, anticipation, he is a real modern defender who can tackle adeptly with either foot,” he reveals. “He has led the Torino back line with great poise for four years now, and also has a good left foot in possession, plus provides a great danger from set pieces too.”
But he also has words of praise for Roma’s prodigiously talented youngster Marquinhos. “At around 6ft tall, the Brazilian doesn't have the most perfect stature to be a centre-back, especially in the Premier League given its greater physicality, but his positioning, pace and anticipation are fantastic for an 18-year-old,” he adds.
Whether Benitez is granted the license to pick his own targets with such freedom as interim manager is doubtful, but Chelsea as a club may well have to find a solution to their central midfield problems before January 31 if an already disappointing season is not to go further awry.
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