Well, when we look at the Chelsea team, all we can see is a squad full of talented players or potential super stars who any club would desperately want in their line-ups. But players’ individual ability may not always be of full use to the team sport that football is. In January, we saw how Mourinho sold Juan Mata, an incredibly talented playmaker because he didn’t feature in the style of football that the Special One wanted to implement. There have now been rumours about Jose Mourinho wanting Khedira who is rated at £36m or Paulinho in his team next season. We discuss whether the big German, Sami Khedira is actually needed in Chelsea.
We all know that Sami Khedira’s playing position and style doesn’t make him the most attractive footballer on the pitch, yet he’s one of the most underrated and important part in the Real Madrid set-up. He is not the type of defensive midfielder who’d like to sit in front of the defence and shield the back four. He is the type of midfielder, who has the confidence of moving up-front in attack and tracking back to carry out his defensive duties, somewhat like a box-to-box yet defensive midfield player.
Khedira is not a hard tackler or one of the top interceptors. He doesn’t create as many chances as Ramires or Lampard have created this season. Courtesy to stats from Squawka, he has 0.88 key passes and 0.98 chances created per 90 metrics which is lesser compared to Ramires’ (1.07 and 1.14) and Lampard’s (1.59 and 1.75). But what Khedira offers is control over the game by allowing his pivot partner to set the tempo. What both Lampard and Ramires, two of Chelsea’s main pivot partners to Matic have been lacking is the legs in the case of Lampard and the composure in the case of Ramires. Chelsea have rarely looked to play in a continuous tempo or rhythm.
Nemanja Matic is well known to run the game as well as break up play. Xabi Alonso does a similar job for Madrid and Spain, albeit with a bit more vision for a strong key pass in comparison to Matic. But what Matic offers is the extra physicality that suits the Premier League, hence safely drawing comparisons to the Spanish midfield maestro. In a Chelsea system, Nemanja Matic can play the role of what Xabi Alonso does for Real Madrid, whereas his pivot partner needs to be the supporter. A supporter is the one who would act as a sweeper when there is an attack. A supporter is the one who would keep the passes ticking. A supporter is the one who is available for every pass from any player for most of the time. What Khedira offers is the ability to work as the right hand of a typical volante, a deep seated play-maker who is also an equally good midfield destroyer. Matic and Alonso are typically these type of midfielders who have both these qualities. Even Claude Makelele was a volante!
Chelsea’s current crop of central midfielders are a great lot to be fair to them. With veteran Frank Lampard, Samba boy Ramires, Dutch youngster Marco van Ginkel and Nigerian star John Obi Mikel, Chelsea are well equipped in the centre, at least on paper. But on the pitch, the performances of every player have been different. Ramires has been purely used as a destroyer ever since Matic’s arrival, probably citing the defense-first approach of the moody Chelsea manager. Frank Lampard’s age has been catching up to him as he has lost whatever speed he had in order to tack back in time. Lampard is there as the experienced stalwart, but his minutes on the pitch are numbered as he nowadays can no longer offer the edge in terms of pivot partnership that he could still offer a couple of seasons ago.
The major comparison starts when we talk about Van Ginkel and Mikel. It is Mikel who would be replaced by Khedira or Paulinho. Both these midfield players are a certain up-gradation on the Nigerian. What Mikel does is, stay back and shield the defence. Along with Matic, his presence on the pitch slows down the pace of the game even more as he never makes any sort of forward runs. Mikel may not run too much on the pitch, but he has decent pace to track back if he makes up his mind to run. Traditionally, Mikel likes to play a little more advanced role, as he does for Nigeria as a central playmaker wearing the traditional number 10 jersey. But in Chelsea, Mikel is used purely as a destroyer, the one different from Ramires as he is expected to stay back and intercept/tackle in order to shield his back four.
What Khedira offers much more than Mikel, is his mobility on the pitch. Khedira isn’t the fastest or the most agile on the pitch, but he is a bit more intelligent in his approach towards the game as he knows how to make good runs and draw some good passes from his teammates. This intelligence is something which fans always wanted to see from Ramires or Mikel. A young player like van Ginkel can be the perfect long term replacement for someone as great and accomplished as Lampard, but in order to challenge for the league, Mourinho would want to use a player who is more experienced and is pretty much in his prime years.
Sami Khedira can add to the roster of Nemanja Matic, Marco van Ginkel, Ramires and Lampard as the five central midfielders for the club. But the addition of the German or Brazil’s Paulinho, who is a similar player, would mean that Mikel would either be sold or would have to be content with even lesser time on the pitch. The use of David Luiz in midfield has been pretty much because of the flair that the Brazilian has on offer in comparison to Mikel who has always been the man who’d follow simple instructions. This flair is probably what Mourinho wants in a pivot midfielder, and would like to have a traditional midfielder instead of using David Luiz, who arguably has had much better games as a midfielder than a defender. Khedira’s or Paulinho’s arrival can also mean regular rotations with Nemanja Matic as well, as the Serb can get time-to-time rest.
The final verdict here would be that, Sami Khedira can be a good player for Chelsea, but they would need to sell John Obi Mikel and/or David Luiz. With these two players bound to be short on game-time, Mourinho wouldn’t want to limit their careers. Moreover, if Chelsea don’t plan on selling any central player but just want to add an additional midfielder, it can turn out to be a poor move.
Chelsea already have an enviable central midfield roster, with all those above mentioned players including Mikel who has been the managers’ favourites in all these years. Chelsea have the quality that most teams would dream of. Promoting youngsters has been something that Chelsea have always fallen short of and with the likes of Marco van Ginkel, Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah in their ranks, Chelsea have all the youth talent that can play exactly the same role that Khedira or Paulinho would bring albeit the experience or the extra bit of physicality.
The onus lies on how the already existing players would perform when there is a new striker next season, where Mourinho’s plans seem to be heading towards establishing a team where central players make those cutting runs into the boxes and help out a striker- who is preferably in the Drogba mould!