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Ndidi, Partey or Rice - Which Defensive Midfielder Should Chelsea sign?

Following Chelsea’s damning defeat in the first leg of the round of 16 Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, Duncan Wright publish...

Following Chelsea’s damning defeat in the first leg of the round of 16 Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, Duncan Wright published an article with The Sun identifying 8 players who Frank Lampard is eager to sell this summer. One of these names was Jorginho: a player who has split the opinion of the Chelsea fanbase since his arrival in the summer of 2018. The appointment of Frank Lampard has seen Chelsea shift away from Sarriball, moving toward a more expansive and energetic brand of football. Although Chelsea do look to initiate their offensive phase by playing from the back, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are much more flexible, meaning defenders and goalkeepers are more willing to bypass the midfield to ensure the ball is not lost in Chelsea’s own final third (as opposed to religiously playing from the back). As a result, Jorginho’s importance to the team has dwindled, with Lampard’s system reducing the Jorginho’s effectiveness. Thus, speculation of Jorginho’s exit has intensified, and the likelihood of Chelsea bringing in a replacement has increased. The following article will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of three potential midfielders Chelsea could sign should Jorginho be sold in the summer.

Lampard’s Philosophy 

Before we jump into the player analysis, it is important to understand how Frank Lampard will like his Chelsea team to lineup next year. Lampard is only in his second year of senior management, so it is hard to gauge what his preferred system is. However, Lampard has repeatedly reiterated the desire for his teams to play expansive, energetic and attacking football, which requires the players to press high up the pitch. As previously mentioned, Lampard’s teams do look to play from the back where possible. As such, Lampard requires a midfielder with the ability to get around the park at ease, while being able to progress the ball from the back. 

Last season at Derby, Lampard’s side regularly deployed either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, both of which have been used regularly throughout this season. The 4-3-3 consisted of Tom Huddlestone or Bradley Johnson at the base of midfield - two tidy midfielders possessing a physical presence - allowing derby to dominate and dictate possession while offering protection to the back four. The 4-2-3-1 comprised of a double pivot screening the back 4, whereby one midfielder would act as the deep-lying playmaker, and the other as a ball winner. 

Therefore, by analysing Lampard’s Derby and the current Chelsea squad, it can be reasonably inferred that Frank will look to bring in a midfielder with a strong physical presence, which is what Chelsea sorely lack at this current point in time. 

Wilfred Ndidi

In the winter of 2017, Leicester signed little-known Nigerian talent Wilfred Ndidi from Genk. Since then, Ndidi has never looked back, developing into one of the best ball-winning midfielders in Europe, and helping Leicester to sit in third position in the premier league. Ndidi is 23 years of age and 183cm in height, meaning he fulfils the quota of young and physical. Ndidi’s biggest strengths are his ability to read the game and anticipate potential counter-attacks, culminating in an average of 4 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per game (according to Moreover, where Leicester deploy a low block, Ndidi’s pace, awareness and concentration enable him to get around the pitch with speed and screen a back four. Further, Ndidi’s has the height in conjunction with an excellent leap to be a threat and an asset for offensive and defensive set-pieces; an area in which Chelsea have struggled this season. Ndidi’s passing and dribbling statistics are not spectacular, but a pass completion percentage of 84.1% from an average of 50 passes per game and .7 completed dribbles per game highlights that Ndidi is competent in progressing the ball from the back. Although Ndidi’s stats are mightly impressive, Leicester’s form without Ndidi’s further highlights his importance to the Leicester side: Ndidi was unavailable for 5 games throughout January and February of which Leicester failed to win any. Ndidi is a substantial contributory factor for Leicester’s superb season and would be my ideal signing in midfield. 

Thomas Partey

Atletico Madrid produced the first shock of this season’s champions league campaign by knocking current holders Liverpool out of the competition. Atletico were resolute as ever, defending doggedly in both legs to restrict Liverpool to just eleven shots on target over both legs. Anyone who watched both legs would have witnessed Thomas Partey’s midfield masterclasses. Partey is a 25-year-old midfielder from Ghana who possesses excellent technical qualities – namely, the ability to beat his man and breakthrough an opposition press in midfield, composure in his own third to pick a pass and an excellent distance shot – in conjunction with strong physical and defensive attributes. Partey, who is capable of playing in both a double pivot and a 6, has averaged 3.8 tackles and 1.5 interceptions in this season’s champions league while completing 84.8% of his passes and 1.9 dribbles per game. These stats suggest that Partey – who, in my opinion, has a slightly better technical skillset than Ndidi – can be the midfield enforcer Chelsea have been crying out for should Leicester deem Ndidi untouchable.  

Declan Rice 

Declan Rice spent 8 years in the Chelsea academy though 2008-2014, forging a friendship with Chelsea’s homegrown star Mason Mount. Rice was released in 2014, paving the way for West Ham to snap up the promising teenager. Throughout of West Ham’s struggles this season, Declan Rice has emerged as the diamond in the rough, blossoming into one of the most accomplished holding midfielders in the country. Rice’s numbers are impressive, averaging 3 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game, with a pass completion percentage of 86.2% from an average of 45 passes per game. Rice’s numbers are even more impressive when you factor in West Ham’s struggles and brand of football this season. Rice has only just turned 21 years old, has experience of playing in a double pivot and as a lone 6, and may be available on the cheap should West Ham be relegated this season. Although Ndidi and Partey are more well-rounded and developed footballers, Rice’s height, defensive qualities and ball-playing ability mean that Chelsea could do with resigning the ex-academy product. 

Chelsea have several important decisions to make in this summer’s transfer window, with Jorginho’s future being one. It remains to be seen whether Chelsea will allow the sale of Jorginho – in light of needing a plethora of signings and sales to render the squad competitive once more. Chelsea’s midfield is arguably Chelsea’s strongest area of the squad, therefore the need to improve other areas of the squad may mean Jorginho may very well line up for the Blues next season. However, should Chelsea sanction the sale of Jorginho, or should Jorginho wish to reunite with Sarri at Juventus, Chelsea will need to bring in a replacement. Of course, there are wildcards: it remains to be seen where Billy Gilmour’s long-term future in the team lies, and Ethan Ampadu’s failed loan spell at Leipzig will probably mean another loan spell is on the cards. In any case, the future of Chelsea’s holding midfield position is intriguing, and any of the aforementioned players would improve Chelsea’s squad. Most importantly, though, they would add the necessary physicality the squad is desperately missing.

Written by - @ffierro_ Edit by - @KristenPulisic

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