It’s hard to pick many holes in the current Chelsea side. Romping towards a second league title in three seasons, Antonio Conte has found a magic formula to bring the best out of an undoubtedly talented squad.
That squad, however, is far from perfect. Weaknesses have only briefly been unearthed by opponents this season, but they are present nonetheless. Minimal injuries, well-timed suspensions and a sparse calendar have allowed the Blues to avoid rotation and name the same starting line-up week after week.
One dilemma that Conte has faced has been in central midfield. The safer option of Nemanja Matic has been favoured for much of the campaign, but the Serbian’s limitations in possession have stifled Chelsea at times. Cesc Fabregas is the obvious alternative and the Spaniard has brought the best out of Chelsea with the ball. Fabregas, though, does leave Chelsea more vulnerable when they lose the ball, particularly to powerful, quick breaking teams.
A hybrid of the two players would be ideal for the Blues. A blend of the two players does, however, create an almost perfect, rounded midfielder. That is quite an ask and, even if such players did commonly exist, they would command a transfer fee that even Chelsea would consider steep.
Chelsea’s best bet, then, is to look for a midfielder who can at least combine some of their attributes. With N’Golo Kante providing the energy and defensive nous, a player is needed alongside side him who can help in the initial build-up phase while being better defensively than Fabregas. Any midfield two needs both players to be able to contribute in all phases of the game, Chelsea need a player who can distribute play from deep to complement Kante.
One such player is Steven N’Zonzi. The 28-year-old former Stoke City midfielder has been one of the best central midfielders in Europe this season. The Frenchman is the controller of tempo in Jorge Sampaoli’s impressive Sevilla side, his role at the base of the midfield allows their attacking players to play with freedom in the final third.
A class act in the West Midlands and now one of the most desirable players around, N’Zonzi turned in yet another classy performance as Sevilla faced Leicester in the Champions League last 16 first leg, and Chelsea should be watching him tonight, closer to home in their second leg. Relaxed in possession with the technical ability and vision to find advanced players in space, N’Zonzi would slot nicely alongside Kante. When required he can screen the defence, the 6′ 3″ midfielder also has the rangy stride and engine to make breaking runs from deep to support the final third play.
N’Zonzi’s age will be the biggest factor putting Chelsea off of a potential deal. While he would be a marked upgrade on Nemanja Matic, the Frenchman does not fit the profile of Chelsea’s recent signings. Aside from a few exceptions, the Blues have avoided signing players during their peak years unless they feel there is still good value in the deal. The Sevilla player would present a risk, but he would be a worthwhile one for Chelsea as they embark on a campaign on four fronts.