It is no news that Chelsea sits 10th in the Premier League despite some perceived excellent results in recent months, the Newcastle thrashing notwithstanding. At the heart of the Blues midfield is the £105 million midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who has played and started 12/13 games for Mauricio Pochettino’s men and £115m record British signing Moises Caicedo. Have Fernandez and Caicedo been good for the west London side? Do they leave some things to be desired? To answer these questions, we compare them to top central midfielders in England.
Central midfield play, especially for big teams (if you still consider Chelsea to be one considering the 12th place finish and the current 10th place rank), is about being decisive in all, or at least most of these categories: Ball progression (through passing and carrying), shot creation and duel winning . Based on this, the best central midfielder in the league currently is Manchester City’s Rodrigo (Rodri). This is because Rodri checks and ranks high in all the above mentioned metrics. Rodri’s lowest score here is duel winning as he wins 59% of his duels, but that is still a very good proportion of duels to be winning as a central midfielder.
According to FBref, the Man City boy ranks in the 96th percentile for successful progressive passes per 90 minutes (per90), and in the 84th percentile for shot creating actions per90. In addition, the former Atletico Madrid midfielder has completed a ridiculous eight long balls per game at a more ridiculous 82% succes rate. Declan Rice and Bruno Guimaraes have also outperformed Fernandez in this sense, as they also check all boxes regarding ball progression, shot creation and duel winning.
Conor Gallagher has outperformed Fernandez as he checks all boxes except the volume of shot creating actions. Dominik Szoboszlai has outperformed Fernandez in every aspect except ball carrying and duel winning. Yves Bissouma has outperformed the CFC No.8 in all categories except shot creating actions.
Fernandez only stands out in one category out of the three under scrutiny. Well…one and half. As the Chelsea midfielder’s ball progression is superb through passing, but rather average through ball carrying. His passing through ball progression can be said to make up for his lack of equal prowess in carrying, as he ranks in the 97th percentile for successful progressive passes, per FBref, a number even higher than Rodri’s. Fernandez also ranks high in shot creating actions, creating the most shots of all the above mentioned midfielders except Szoboszlai on a per90 basis, and ranking in the 86th percentile for shot-creating actions.
This piece is of course about Fernandez and Caicedo, but Caicedo does not rank high in any of the categories under scrutiny, though he wins 71% of his aerial duels. It is fair to say after these comparisons that both Chelsea midfielders could be a lot better, though Fernandez has been great in some aspects, but he can be much better in others.
Caicedo has room for improvement in his winning of ground duels and his ball progression. At 49%, Caicedo’s ground duel winning is not great, and for the team Pochettino is building, he’d need to be much better. The Chelsea No. 25 also needs to up his shot creation. He doesn’t need to be the one always providing the final pass, but he can definitely be more involved in final third build-up. Fernandez of course also needs to do better in ground duels, as 47% is not good enough compared to other top exponents.
No big team is out in the market looking for a central midfielder that offers JUST ball progression through passing, or just ball winning. Big teams need central midfielders that can do a bit of everything, to a good level (70th – 80th percentile or higher). This is why it is fair to say that the two Chels’ CMs in question are still some ways from being dominant central midfielders in the league as things stand.