As Chelsea looks for their next big name centerback, perhaps they should look to new friends RB Leipzig for Dayot Upamecano.
Chelsea has been playing well since the two goalless draws against Sevilla and Manchester United in the Champions league and Premier League respectively. The Blues have finally found the balance between attack and defense, a balance that is famously difficult to find. In every position, Chelsea has a player that can play for the next half decade at least. Lampard has finally found a centerback pairing that is working, earning the West London side five clean sheets in six matches and one goal conceded in that time. No one can argue that the Kurt Zouma-ThiagoSilva partnership is the way to go this season.
Chelsea needs to get someone in to slot in beside Kurt Zouma in long term. Yes, it could be Andreas Christensen or Antonio Rudiger but the latter seems to be on his way out and while Christensen has generally played well this season, there are still holes in his game and Chelsea can only afford to keep him as a backup.
Chelsea has needed a marquee centerback for several seasons now. Zouma is currently Chelsea’s best centerback but he needs someone beside him for when Silva is phased out. A very good candidate for that is RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano. The Frenchman’s name appearing here is not a surprise. Many top teams are interested in him and his, as well as Leipzig’s style of play have many similarities with Chelsea.
Style of play
According to WhoScored, Leipzig and Chelsea both rank third in possession in their respective leagues, 57.4 and 56.9 respectively this season. This means that like Chelsea, Leipzig play possession football and would find themselves with the ball more often than not. Leipzig have 57 successful pressures per 90 so far in the Bundesliga last season and 50 this season, ranking 5th for all Bundesliga teams, but ranking 2nd for teams in the top five possession averages this season, the first being Eintracht Frankfurt. Chelsea has 50 last season and 41 this season so far, and is ranked 8th for successful pressures in the league but 3rd for teams with the top five average possession this season. The shows a willingness of the two teams to work hard to regain possession of the ball when they lose it. Considering that pressures are defensive actions, it is therefore quite impressive that these teams, while having so much possession, still record so much successful pressures.
Due to the similarities between the two teams, it isn’t presumption to expect Upamecano to fit in at Chelsea and therefore only logical that the blues target the 22 year-old France international as their next acquisition. The Leipzig star is 185cm tall (6-foot-1) and would only be Chelsea’s fourth tallest defender should he join, ahead of Thiago Silva and Fikayo Tomori. Upamecano’s defensive numbers are on par with Chelsea’s current best, and mostly only loses to Zouma in many of those statistics. These numbers would be comparing Upamecano with Zouma and Virgil van Dijk. Zouma because he was Chelsea’s best centerback last season and van Dijk because he’s the standard of centerbacks in the Premier League. The numbers from the beginning of last season till date would be scrutinized.
Upamecano attempts more duels per game than Zouma and Virgli van Dijk, and subsequently wins a lower percentage with Upamecano winning 4.5/8.2(55 percent), Zouma winning 4.6/6.8(68 percent) and Van Dijk winning 4.9/6.9(69 percent) on average. He has won 1.9/2.9(65 percent) aerial duels per game, ranking worse than Zouma at 3.6/4.5(80 percent) and Van Dijk at 3.7/5.2(70 percent). The amount of aerial duels is equally as important as the percentage, though that isn’t as clear cut as it seems.
Possession teams would have less defensive actions to do and that includes aerial duels. Aerials duels would also be in more volume in matches where a lot of long balls are played. So a centerback with low volume of aerial battles isn’t particularly a good or bad thing, but winning most of the aerial duels you contest is generally a good thing. Zouma and Van Dijk are often targets in attacking corners due to their height, so they have more opportunities to contest aerial duels.
Upamecano has made 0.7 block per game since the start of last season, better than Zouma’s 0.5 and Van Dijk’s 0.3. Upamecano ranks third of the bunch in clearances per game, 2.4, with Zouma and Van Dijk recording 4.6 and 3 respectively. Zouma tops this category as he’s very much a safety-first centerback. Upamecano ranks second of the bunch in interceptions per game 1.2, compared to Zouma’s 1.7 and Van Dijk’s 1.1. He does rank first for tackles per game at 1.2, compared to Zouma’s 0.4 and Van Dijk’s 1.0. These statistics are gotten from SofaScore.
Since the last of last season, Van Dijk has kept 16 clean sheets, with Zouma keeping 10 and Upamecano keeping 6 in that time. Clean sheets are tricky though, because they depend on team performance perhaps more than individual performances. These comparisons are to put each player’s individual performances into context, not necessarily to imply who is better, though some statistics clearly show that a player is better than others at it. All the numbers can be explained by a lot of different things. It is important to note that the aim is to buy a player that would be effective for Chelsea and not necessarily one who is the best in his position.
The most impressive aspect of Upamecano’s game is perhaps his passing. Interestingly all three centerbacks have averaged about 90 percent passing accuracy since the start of last season. His long passing is perhaps where he shines. He boasts a whopping 6.6/8.9 long balls per game (74 percent), compared to Van Dijk’s 5.5/9.8(56 percent) and Zouma’s 5.0/8.6(58 percent). In comparison to other Bundesliga centerbacks, Upamecano ranks joint third amongst centerbacks with long balls per game, and ranks first in long ball accuracy at 74 percent. For the Premier League, Upamecano would rank second for centerbacks in long balls per game. He would rank first for long ball accuracy amongst centerbacks. Upamecano’s quality on the ball is evident and he would be the perfect long term replacement for Silva. Zouma would act as a cover, as he is for Silva, indicated by the sheer number of Zouma’s aerial duels and amount of clearances.
In addition Upamecano completes 5.4 progressive passes per game for his team. Van Dijk and Zouma record 4.5 and 2.1 respectively. He would be perfect to start attacks, like Silva currently does. He would pick up from where Silva leaves, spraying passes effectively and making Chelsea a complete footballing unit. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the young Frenchman would slot perfectly in from the word go.
The Premier League generally has taller centerbacks than him, and being in the Premier League would probably see Upamecano contest more aerial battles, if he can keep up his success rate that’d be superb. His interception numbers seem to indicate that he still has work to do in terms of reading the game, though that may not necessarily be true seeing as his team have a lot of the ball and therefore would naturally have less defensive actions to make per game.
Upamecano could well be the one that transforms Chelsea’s defense in the long term. At 22, he can only get better and could be a key player at Stamford Bridge for the next decade.