Michael Essien’s hopes of being part of Andre Villas-Boas’ first team plans at Chelsea were dealt a major blow when the midfielder once again suffered a lengthy injury that will see him miss at least six months of the season. Owner Roman Abramovich seems willing to let Villas-Boas add to the team and the new manager must now find a long-term replacement for injury-hit Essien.
Essien’s career with Chelsea since a £24.4million move from Lyon in 2005 has been blighted by serious injuries. In September 2008 Essien ruptured his cruciate ligament playing for Ghana and was ruled out for six months of the season. Essien’s 2009/2010 season was also ruined by injury. A torn hamstring saw him spend time of the sidelines before a fresh knee problem ended his season and hopes of playing in the World Cup. Last season’s 43 appearances for the Stamford Bridge side were then in some way a success but unfortunately the repetitive injury blows and lack of playing time meant Essien was far from his best. And after only just starting pre-season training this summer, Essien suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus that required surgery. This is the reoccurrence of a previous injury and raises serious doubts about the 28-year-old’s long-term fitness.
A tough-tackling and spirited fighter in the Chelsea midfield, Essien was key to Chelsea’s strong central spine. He soon repaid the £20million plus transfer fee and his battling displays allowed Chelsea’s more attacking players to break forward safe in the knowledge that Essien would be the first line of defence. Despite playing as a more defensive midfielder, Essien can also chip in with some spectacular strikes.
Chelsea’s love affair with Essien is understandable, when fully fit and on top form he is an unstoppable force in the heart of midfield. But now, after another serious injury blow, Chelsea and Villas-Boas may have to consider life without Essien. That means the new boss will have to find a replacement. Villas-Boas has plenty of midfielders at his disposal but none can replicate the tough tackling of Essien. Chelsea’s pursuit of Luka Modric shows that Chelsea are looking to add more creativity in the midfield, something that must be counter-balanced with defensive strength if they are to be successful.
One of the other names linked with Chelsea has been Cheik Tiote. Newcastle’s Tiote was a revelation last season after his £3.5million move from FC Twente last summer and he would be a like-for-like replacement for Essien. A strong and committed central midfield, Tiote had to be one of the signings of the season. His impressive combative displays earned him a staggering six-and-a-half year contract extension in February, only six months after initially signing for Newcastle. Such a long deal and Tiote insisting that he is happy at the club despite the links may be potential stumbling blocks for any move. Another possible replacement for Essien could be West Ham’s Scott Parker, possibly on a season-long loan, though I believe Tiote would be the better long-term signing.
Essien’s injuries and the toll they have taken on his form when he was fit enough to start means that Villas-Boas can’t simply wait for the old Essien to reappear. He needs to replace the Ghanaian and Newcastle’s Cheik Tiote may be the perfect player.
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