Chelsea’s Midfielders of the Decade: Truly the best, in every sense

Chelsea’s Team of the Decade midfielders for the 2010s transcend the team and are among the world’s best over the last decade.

The decade is ending much the way it started, with Frank Lampard in a position of prominence at Stamford Bridge. Lampard is the only unanimous selection among midfielders in our Chelsea Team of the Decade voting. He did not play with either of his teammates in our Team of the Decade, which would be one of the most talented and formidable midfield batteries football has ever known.

N’Golo Kante (Scott Brant)

N’Golo Kante is one of the most lovable Chelsea players ever. His smile alone could have put him into the Team of the Decade.

Being Antonio Conte’s first purchase after arriving at Stamford Bridge, N’Golo Kante was a favorite immediately. His stature is sometimes looked at as a negative, but it has no effect on the Frenchman who dominates everyone he comes up against, including his fellow countryman Paul Pogba. You could count the number of bad matches N’golo Kante has played for Chelsea on one hand. He is so consistent that he often flies under the radar, not getting the appreciation he deserves.

The workload he can carry allows others on the pitch to venture forward. The stability he provides allowed Cesc Fabregas to spray passes from anywhere he wanted, and Chelsea, over the years, has benefited.

Kante won Premier League trophies in the midfield for Leicester and Chelsea, and a World Cup for France, where his teammates forced the trophy upon him because he was too shy to ask.

I am unsure Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri would have had the success they had if not for N’Golo Kante’s presence in the midfield.

Cesc Fabregas (Olaoluwa Nwobodo)

Fabregas joined Chelsea in July 2014. It was ridiculous what Fabregas could do with a ball. He made the most outrageous passes so frequently they began to look normal. All people could compare his next ridiculous pass to was his previous ridiculous pass. He was, at some point, called “Fabrepass” by Arsenal fans.

Fabregas demonstrated what it meant to “control a game.” His most impressive attribute was his ability to make a long pass to players of all heights. Fabregas knew how to drop the ball in front of a running 5’7” Pedro just as well as putting it on the head of a striker leaping in the box.

Cesc Fabregas led the Premier League in assists (12) when Chelsea won the title in 2016/17, their (and his) second in three years. He also won one FA Cup, one Carabao Cup and one Europa League trophy.

Fabregas’ wonder assist against Burnley, where a ball is lobbed at him and he just let the ball bounce off his ankle to split the Burnley center-backs so it could drop perfectly for Andre Schurrle to kick it into the net in stride is not appreciated enough. With how much fame and admiration he receives, you can still feel like he was underrated.

Frank Lampard* (Varun Dani)

The previous decade had seen Frank Lampard find his way to the world’s best, as everyone around him recognised his world-class talent. This decade saw him reap the rewards for his efforts.

Lampard started the decade with a bang, with the second half of his spectacular 22-goal Premier League season, helping Chelsea win some major silverware on the way. Then came three huge nights that defined his legacy.

First he captained a Terry-less Chelsea to the Blues’ maiden Champions League triumph, the greatest night in the club’s history. Then he broke Bobby Tambling’s record to become Chelsea’s all-time record goal scorer – from midfield, mind you. Last, he captained another Terry-less Chelsea to a Europa League triumph.

His leadership and performances were essential to the European and domestic achievements for the first part of the this decade.

Substitute: Juan Mata (Hugo Amaya)

Juan Mata deserved better during his last year at Chelsea considering how inspiring he was when he was on the field. The left-footed Spaniard was a great attacking player. Despite not being strong or fast, Mata had clinical vision, tactical awareness and a mean left foot.

Mata was a leader on the field, one who commanded the midfield and the attack. His vision was matched only by the likes of Eden Hazard. But even then, his passes were above anyone else’s in the team.

Mata scored a total of 33 goals for Chelsea and assisted 63 times. He was often the one responsible for moving the ball around in order to formulate the attack. With Hazard and Oscar on his side, he knew where to place the ball and where to run. Their interplay was outstanding and Mata’s decision-making abilities were displayed at their best.

The midfielder delivered some incredible assists throughout the years. Once can hardly forget *that* assist to Demba Ba against Manchester United. Very often he brought the team to life when Chelsea needed it the most.

Juan Mata will always be a loved character at Chelsea, with his classy displays on and off the field. He always showed respect for the manager and players alike, accepting his role in the team and contributing in the only way he knew how.

Substitute: Mikel John Obi (Nate Hofmann)

The artist formerly known as John Obi Mikel was the spiritual bridge between the days of Claude Makelele and the current N’Golo Kante era. Some might describe his style of play as painfully bland, and they’re probably right, but it was effective and indicative of the football Chelsea played for the first half of the decade.

For better or worse, Chelsea’s greatest successes were usually the result of stellar defensive solidity and pragmatism. No one embodied those virtues better than Mikel John Obi.

He was an expert in doing the right thing instead of the exciting thing, and he was rewarded with 11 total trophies at Chelsea, seven of which came this decade.

Plenty of people, be they Chelsea fans or otherwise, probably rolled their eyes every time Mikel’s name featured in the starting lineup. You could expect plenty of sideways passing and grinding, physical battles. But you could also expect positive results and clean sheets.

His rigid adherence to what worked best for the team was part of that quasi-militaristic efficiency that defined some of the best Chelsea teams, and he deserves a spot in this team because of it.