How will Di Matteo manouver this midfield challenge?
That’s the number of recognized midfielders in the Chelsea squad at the moment.
To be exact: that’s Michael Essien, Oriol Romeu, Ramires, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, John Obi Mikel, Kevin de Bruyne, Florent Malouda, Raul Meireles, Eden Hazard, Josh McEachran, Marko Marin, Yossi Benayoun, and Lucas Piazon.
Fourteen midfielders competing for at most five midfield places in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, both of which seem to be favored by now-permanent manager Roberto Di Matteo.
And this is not including Internacional’s Oscar and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Willian, both of whom have been heavily linked to Chelsea recently.
Oscar is, of course, rumored to be in London finalizing a £25 million move to Stamford Bridge (the Daily Mail), while Willian is supposed to have had a £26 million bid rejected by his current club (ESPNSoccernet).
Now, it’s all well and good that Roman Abramovich has shown a renewed appetite to strengthen his Chelsea squad to build on their Champions League and FA Cup double success last year.
Indeed, it makes for exciting viewing for fans of the English Premier League, especially because a strong Chelsea will make up for a disappointing 2011-2012 season by storming once again to the top of the English football tree.
But, even setting aside the massive, massive headaches that Roberto Di Matteo will get from working out who exactly to include his starting midfield, Chelsea’s recent moves in the transfer market don’t seem to make sense.
First of all, they would increase the midfielder count to 16.
If that doesn’t sound ridiculous, consider that in most midfield formations, you need players capable of playing out wide.
Out of the list above, Ramires, Mata, de Bruyne, Malouda, Hazard, Marin and Benayoun have all been used as wide midfielders or wingers in a first-team competitive setting.
That’s seven players competing for two positions, and that's not counting Daniel Sturridge.
What about the center?
Essien, Romeu, Ramires, Lampard, Mata, Mikel, Meireles, Hazard, McEachran, Marin, Benayoun, Piazon: 12 capable of playing through the middle.
Let’s say we split those central midfielders into two groups: defensive and attacking midfielders.
Essien, Romeu, Ramires, Lampard, Mikel, Meireles: That’s six capable of playing in a withdrawn role, leaving six more in front of them. And that’s not including Ramires, Lampard and Meireles, who can move into a more advanced position as well.
Considering that Manchester City have eight recognized midfielders and United have 10, this is an abnormally high count.
Even accounting for the likely departures of Malouda and Benayoun, Di Matteo would still have a quite considerable number of midfield egos to manage.
Let’s next consider the age factor.
Chelsea’s recent signings of Hazard and Marin, along with the previous captures of de Bruyne and Romeu, signal a slight change in transfer policy, from shelling out for established stars to shelling out for hot midfield prospects. The pursuit of Oscar seems to go along with this trend.
But a quick look at the midfield list shows us that, Lampard, Malouda and Benayoun aside, all other players are below 30, with only Meireles and Essien approaching that mark.
In fact, the remaining nine (10, if we include Oscar) are 25 or below.
All the talk is of building a squad that is capable of taking Chelsea into the future, of translating a forward-thinking youth policy that will herald a new Chelsea dynasty.
The famous counterexample to “you’ll never win anything with kids” provided by Fergie’s Fledglings aside, this transition was always supposed to be happen with a healthy mix of top-level experience and youthful drive.
What should Chelsea spend their money on?
A packed squad of 10 midfielders all looking to push through to make just the few starting slots might mean a competitive dressing room, but will inevitably lead to dressing room unrest.
Consider the difficulty of Romelu Lukaku breaking into just two senior strikers ahead of him (Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres) and his frequent appearances in the stands last season, and we see the possibility of yet more potential wasted out on loan, on the bench or in the stands.
Will Oscar and Willian offer anything to Chelsea that they don’t already have?
Besides a renewed reputation that buying abroad and buying expensive once again reign supreme at Stamford Bridge, nothing too much that existing players like Mata and Hazard don’t already offer.
And we have discussed this all without mentioning the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules that will come into effect imminently.
Better to use the money to strengthen a depleted strikeforce (Torres, Sturridge, Lukaku), an aging backline (John Terry, Ashley Cole), or a backup goalkeeper.
The mooted big-money move for FC Porto’s Hulk may be slightly over the top as well, but at least it’s on the right track.
Also check out: Why Liverpool Shouldn’t Loan Out Carroll