On the face of it, Chelsea have made smart buys this transfer window and look set to make more with the expected addition of Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen likely to go through in the coming days.
Despite having the third-best attack in the Premier League last season with 69 goals scored, as well as being the third side behind Manchester City and Liverpool to create the highest volume of big chances, Frank Lampard’s added another playmaker in Hakim Ziyech and a prolific goalscorer in Timo Werner.
Indeed, both moves have their merits. Even though the raw statistics suggest the West London side didn’t necessarily need to prioritise their attacking options this summer, they sometimes looked short of ideas in the final third and suffered a bit when Tammy Abraham declined in the second part of 19/20.
Statistics provided by Understat also shows that the Blues underperformed their Expected Goals by 7.23, only four sides beat this in the entire division. In short, had the five-time Prem winners converted more really promising chances, they’d have rivalled the eventual tally of champions Liverpool.
The other major concern for Lampard was at the back, and signings of primary left-back target Ben Chilwell has been completed, as has Thiago Silva at centre-back who, despite his advanced years, they hope would significantly improve a team that allowed 54 goals last season.
While these signings are reasonable, an area that seems to be ignored is defensive midfield, where the Premier League giants lack a true holding midfielder.
The potential arrival of Havertz from Leverkusen, despite being considered a generational talent, only adds to positions that already look filled, while the club don’t have an all-rounder that can play at the base of their midfield.
Thus, it has been surprising that Chelsea haven’t considered Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey as the perfect anchorman for a side that currently looks attack-heavy. While many observers will balk at this suggestion given the presence of the much-maligned Jorginho and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante, neither provide what the Blues necessarily require in that role.
The Brazil-born Italy international, despite his adeptness in recycling possession, lacks the defensive awareness required to dominate as a blue-collar midfielder in front of the defence.
His inability to be alive to danger is well-known and was badly exposed in a cameo vs Crystal Palace, where a last-ditch Kurt Zouma tackle prevented a Palace goal, while a weak challenge to stop Andrew Robertson vs Liverpool at Anfield was simply shocking.
Both instances highlighted the weaknesses of the regista without the ball, situations in which Kante thrives.
However, regardless of the campaign by many pundits to have the Frenchman deployed in front of the defence, his limitations in possession remains a weakness. To be fair, he did give decent-to-good performances in that position post-lockdown, with the team’s impressive showing against Manchester City particularly notable.
Still, Kante’s best football has come when partnered with a deeper midfielder or natural anchorman. This was the case with Danny Drinkwater at Leicester City in 2015/16 and alongside Nemanja Matic at Chelsea the following season.
There are also doubts about the 29-year-old playing a more measured role in midfield different to his natural tendency to hunt for the ball higher up the pitch. This was evident in the Blues’ 3-2 defeat by West Ham United in July where two-time Prem winner was caught high up the pitch in the build-up to the fast break that won the Hammers the game.
Interestingly, what Jorginho and Kante lack in their skill-set, Partey possesses in his repertoire. Continue reading