Chelsea’s move for Benfica’s Nemanja Matic this month makes the most sense. Though that’s strictly from a footballing point of view.
The club are heading back to Portugal to negotiate the purchase of a player, rumoured to be around £20 million, who only three years ago they exchanged in a deal which saw David Luiz go the other way to Stamford Bridge. This is exactly what UEFA had in mind with Financial Fair Play.
But it’s the best move Jose Mourinho can make to improve his squad. From the offset, it appears strengthening the at times lifeless attack is the priority. Samuel Eto’o now looks to be a pointless signing, while Demba Ba is largely forgotten. Add the inconsistent Fernando Torres to the mix and the easiest conclusion to arrive at is that Chelsea need a genuine world-class centre-forward, one who is currently in or at least approaching his prime.
Scoring goals, though, hasn’t been a problem for Mourinho’s side. It’s stopping them going in at the other which has limited them to a role among the chasing pack rather than a constant at the top of the Premier League table.
Chelsea simply don’t have a influential figure in the centre of midfield, and the term influential is purposely ambiguous.
The game is catching up to Frank Lampard. There’s good reason to believe that this should be his final season at the top of the game. As a figure in the dressing room and a mentor to younger players, he can be invaluable. But as a player trying to keep up with the swashbuckling style of the front three, he’s simply out of place.
Ironically, Rafa Benitez tried to use David Luiz in the midfield last season. The Brazilian’s kamikaze style would never see him at centre-back for a prolonged spell in a Mourinho team, and even in midfield, the Portuguese coach doesn’t fancy the former Benfica player.
Matic, however, who has blossomed into one of Europe’s best holding midfielders, is the answer, albeit an expensive one. It’s further evidence of Chelsea’s profligacy in the market that they could so easily dispose of the Serbian a few years ago, only to turn to him when in need of strengthening. Not only is he an excellent shield in front of the back line, he’s also capable of springing attacks, a player who can be hugely influential at both ends of the pitch.
It’s something that was present at Real Madrid, with so much importance owed to Xabi Alonso. Chelsea, for all the good that they have just in front of that central midfield pairing, don’t have a player who can command the centre of the pitch.
Mourinho should have no trouble extracting goals from this side. Even if you look past the fleeting threat of Torres; Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Willian, and, provided he stays, Juan Mata can be regular sources if goals. Perhaps the best for the forward line isn’t to invest in a new striker now, but to offer the best option, Torres, a consistent run in the team. At the very least he should be allowed to build up some fluidity, rather than being rotated in and out of the side.
Matic will give Chelsea a strong base to work with. The players are in place in other parts of the pitch, but it’s that central midfield area that needs to be addressed.