More than a few fans have seen the reports of the rift between former Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard and certain members of the board for its refusal to pursue West Ham United star Declan Rice. Many have also expressed their irritation at the board for not getting the manager’s preferred target, regardless of reason or motivation. Rice joined West Ham’s academy after being released at the age of 14 in 2014 by the Blues. He went on to make a name for himself and has since become one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. For a team like Chelsea, Rice would be an even better buy because he covers the homegrown quota.
Lampard’s sole interest in Rice is understandable because of his talent and other implications. The Blues’ hierarchy refused to deliver the manager’s preferred target—partly because the club let him go for free in 2014—but mainly because West Ham was insisting on a fee in the region of £70 million. Yes, many English players have been sold for a lot of money and that’s just the way it is, but that figure is quite high for a player that was let go for free. This deal particularly causes hesitation because Chelsea can get what it needs from other equally competent defensive midfielders—if not more.
This series will highlight some remarkable defensive midfielders that the Blues can go after if they’re hell-bent on not pursuing Rice this summer. Chelsea needs a certain style of defensive midfielder, and that profile is what will be discussed in this series.
Thomas Tuchel’s side is a possession-based team, so the player has to be comfortable on the ball and be a competent passer, as well as comfortable defending in transition. A lot of the defending Chelsea does is killing teams on the counter, so a player has to be very good in the interceptions and tackles department. The Blues are a pressing team, so the player has to be comfortable doing that, as well.
Chance creation, contrary to what many believe, is not required in a defensive midfielder. Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez and Andrea Pirlo were a rare type of defensive midfielder and they don’t come around often. This midfielder should also have very good decision making. He should be able to decide which pass is appropriate in every sequence and who the best recipient of the ball is, as well. This player should be versatile enough to play in a midfield two or double pivot, as well as disciplined enough to play as a lone defensive midfielder in a midfield three with dual No. 8s. A player that ticks all of these boxes would be perfect for the Blues in the defensive midfield role. There are several defensive midfielders that can fulfill this role for Chelsea, and though Rice is one of them, he is not nearly the only one.
In this series, players will be compared to N’Golo Kante, mainly because he’s currently the best defensive midfielder at the club. But they will also be compared to a select Premier League defensive midfielders, as well, if they are currently playing in a different league. No, defensive or attacking numbers may not necessarily translate from league to league, but it does give a good idea of a players’ strengths, weakness and play style.