Maurizio Sarri’s start to life at Chelsea has been productive. The Blues are situated in fourth place in the Premier League and have performed well in cup competitions, the highlight so far being that semi-final triumph against Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup. Despite the encouraging first half of the season, the Blues have encountered some issues in the implementation of Sarri’s system, and the manager has also publicly damned their mentality.
Perhaps further signings are required to fully establish the 60-year-old’s highly technical and fluid brand of football. Sarri stressed the need for a replacement after Cesc Fabregas departed for Monaco and has continued to discuss the issue, but signing another midfielder could complicate the harmony of the Italian’s midfield options.
Jorginho, Ross Barkley, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ethan Ampadu have all played in midfield for the Blues this season. Jorginho is the principal midfielder, the man responsible for dictating proceedings and setting the tempo of Chelsea’s play. An additional recruit to deputise in his absence would be of clear benefit to Chelsea, but one must consider that a quality replacement, who would command a big investment, would be unwilling to operate solely as Jorginho’s backup.
Before departing at the start of the month, Fabregas had only registered six league appearances (one start) for the Blues this term, equating to only 176 minutes of Premier League action. Due to his limited pace and lack of mobility, Sarri opted to employ the Spaniard as Jorginho’s backup, while Fabregas would feature with greater regularity in cup competitions.
However, the Blues are unlikely to sign a 31-year-old midfielder with restricted mobility to replace Fabregas – after all, it’s difficult to find a superior passer than the Spaniard in world football. Thus, any new signing would likely provide Chelsea with an influx of dynamism and exuberance, and therefore be a better fit for the more advanced midfield roles in front of the playmaking anchor.
Any potential signing, especially players of sufficient quality, will command a hefty investment and demand more involvement. Resultantly, if the Blues were to sign another midfielder before Thursday’s deadline, then they would be in direct competition with Barkley, Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek for the accompanying positions in midfield.
Most Chelsea fans aren’t opposed to the notion of another midfielder, and it’s true that every club should seize an opportunity to bolster the quality of their side, but January could prove to be the incorrect time to purchase another midfielder for three reasons.
Firstly, any recruit (of distinguished pedigree) would be unwilling to only play as second-fiddle to Jorginho. Secondly, they would stifle the harmony that exists between Sarri’s current midfield options. Lastly, and most importantly, it would skew the path for greater youth integration at Chelsea.
Ampadu produced a solid display deputising in Jorginho’s absence against Sheffield Wednesday, and while the Welshman may not flaunt equal reaction and awareness, he passed the ball well, and arguably, he has a greater range than the Italian midfielder.
Although Ampadu has previously played and excelled in midfield, most notably for Wales, this was his inaugural game in the so-called regista position. His performance was mostly encouraging, and with increased experience, he should be better equipped to understand and deliver the responsibilities of the role. Ampadu’s future may not lie in the regista position, but he has the necessary qualities to deputise when needed.
With regards to Chelsea’s current midfield options, Kovacic is still contracted to the club until the end of the season, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek has only begun to see significant involvement in recent months. While the quality of Barkley’s performances have varied throughout the campaign, the three are settled as Sarri’s midfield options, and the summer would denote a more reasonable period to recruit another midfielder.
January is a notoriously tricky period to conduct transfer dealings, and with little time remaining in the window, one could expect higher inflated fees. In the summer, there would be ample time for negotiation, an extended period to identify targets, while Kovacic’s future – whether at Stamford Bridge or elsewhere – will be resolved.
Even while orchestrating their transfer business in the summer, the Blues haven’t got the most successful records of signing midfielders, as the failed Chelsea careers of Danny Drinkwater and Timeoue Bakayoko can attest. And, when you factor the possible return of Mason Mount, common sense dictates that the Blues should conduct their search for another midfielder in the summer.
Another player that can play in Jorginho’s position would prove to be a useful signing for Sarri but acquiring such a player in the January window could evoke more complications than benefits. Accordingly, the Blues should postpone their search until the summer window.