Football has changed significantly over the past decade, and so have football formations. It is the inevitable. As things presently stand, the 4-2-3-1 arrangement appears to be the in-thing. Some of Europe's finest sides, including Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid and present continental champions Bayern Munich, have deployed this formation more often than not in recent seasons.
Chelsea first opted for it when Roberto Di Matteo stepped in as Andre Villas-Boas' replacement in 2012, promptly going on to win the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup. Rafael Benitez saw no reason to make alterations after taking over from RDM as interim manager the following term.
In the meantime, Jose Mourinho at Real was very much in favor of the modern 4-2-3-1 himself, with Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira his preferred pair in the double pivot.
Now that he's back at his old stomping ground, one would expect the Portuguese tactician to persist with the same arrangement, and that would require him to identify a first-choice pair for midfield. Marco van Ginkel's arrival after something of a breakout season would suggest Jose has the young Dutchman in his plans for 2013-14.
In van Ginkel's own words, via the official Chelsea website, "I am a box-to-box player. I cover a lot of metres and can score a goal, but I also like to defend and think of myself as a real team player."
While I admit I've never actually watched him live on television, he sounds like a balanced central midfielder, with an exciting blend of attacking and defensive attributes. His YouTube footage lends support to such beliefs:
It's quite clear he knows how to pick a pass and has little trouble finding a teammate with a long ball when sitting deep. Standing at 6'1", he is a physical presence in midfield and yet fairly mobile.
It's not without reason that MVG won the Dutch Young Player of the Year accolade for the crucial role he played for his club in the campaign gone by, as Vitesse secured fourth place in the Eredivisie, and with it Europa League football.
I can see van Ginkel being given opportunities as a deep-lying playmaker, as he possesses the requisite qualities, including the inclination to help out at the back. But he'd still need a partner with a more defensive mindset to feature next to him.
It can be argued that if there's one player who has done enough to earn one of the two available slots in the double pivot, it is the speedy Ramires.
Ramires was one of the first players Mourinho communicated with following the announcement of his second homecoming. He was assured a place in the Special One's plans.
The Brazilian has, over the past two seasons, transformed into one of Chelsea's most reliable performers. You always know what you're going to get from him: tackling, tireless running, desire.
Although industrious and willing to do the dirty work fairly frequently, Ramires knows his way to goal. Accumulating 21 goals in the last 24 months, his finishing has improved leaps and bounds since arriving on English shores.
Amongst his numerous strengths, there's only one notable weakness. Anyone who's watched Ramires carefully over the years would know that his Achilles heal is his passing, which can be erratic.
Perhaps this is why having a more capable play-orchestrator alongside him in the double pivot might help. Ramires often played there last term next to John Obi Mikel.
Mikel, although crucial defensively, is limited with his passing. While it is no fault of his own (successive Chelsea managers over the past few years have suppressed his offensive instincts), the aforementioned is not far from the truth.
The Ramires-Mikel partnership, defensively solid, has worked against teams like Arsenal that like to get forward and attack. But it is unlikely to yield much against a defensive side like Stoke City, in which case possessing an extra central midfielder who can carve open a defense with a pass might be advantageous.
Meanwhile, the Ramires-Frank Lampard partnership was nowhere close to being a success. Both lost their defensive discipline when lining up side-by-side, and Frank lacked the pace to track back.
Lampard isn't getting any younger, and Mikel is likely to head right out of the exit door this summer, with Galatasaray looking to snap him up, according to Shane Farrington of goal.com. With all that put into perspective, Marco van Ginkel might just be the man starting next to Ramires for Chelsea in 2013-14.
That would pair together two midfielders who'd be happy to take turns going forward. Neither is shy when it comes to getting tackles in, either. The poise is there.
The move for MVG does cast some doubt over the futures of Josh McEachran and Oriol Romeu. One would expect the midfield duo to be shipped out on loan, and I certainly wouldn't back the once-world-class Michael Essien to be anything more than a utility man going forward.
David Luiz excelled at center back for Brazil recently, and I think he will fill in at defensive midfield only when necessary from now on. Nonetheless, he remains an adept deputy for the role.
A double pivot partnership as the one I have envisaged would be a balanced one, just like the Alonso-Khedira one at Madrid, but it all depends on what Jose Mourinho has in mind. He may yet choose to revert back to the trademark 4-3-3 of Chelsea, but somehow I sense a Ramires-van Ginkel partnership in a 4-2-3-1 is on the cards.
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