Sami Khedira and Chelsea Make for the Perfect Fit
He may be wearing blue in the image above—albeit that of Real Madrid's new away strip—but should Chelsea fans be getting excited by the prospect of Sami Khedira arriving at Stamford Bridge this summer? Moreover, would the German solve the Blues' ongoing problems in defensive midfield?
The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. And on the back of rumors that have appeared across the English media of late, with The Mirror and Metro just two of the newspapers reporting on Jose Mourinho's apparent interest, here's why.
As far back as May, the Evening Standard had suggested Chelsea were ready to bring German international Khedira to England. Mourinho's return was days away from being officially announced and the Blues were coming off the back of a season that will be remembered equally for the highs and lows it delivered.
Of the lows, there were many in 2012-13, including a frailty in the heart of midfield that saw interim manager Rafa Benitez often tinker with his lineup as he looked to find a balance. It was always hit and miss, with one formula working on a Saturday, only for it to fail midweek.
In truth, it's an area that hasn't been properly addressed since the departure of Claude Makelele in 2008. Michael Essien once appeared the heir apparent, but serious knee injuries have meant question marks remain over his ability to meet the physical challenges thrown at him every week in the Premier League.
And while it's been a physical battle for Essien, his colleague—and Chelsea's current defensive midfield incumbent—John Mikel Obi has hardly lived up to his billing despite being given plenty of opportunities to revel.
"We have found gold from Africa," Mourinho is reported to have declared when he first locked eyes on Mikel in 2006 (via Daily Mail). And in the seven years or so since, the general feeling on the Stamford Bridge terraces is that they are still waiting for that "gold" to mature.
There have been many false dawns along the way, notably Mikel's excellent form in the latter stages of 2011-12 as Chelsea lifted the Champions League, only for another dip that saw him endure a difficult past 12 months.
Mikel is a player who often displays an erratic nature—his tendency to shoot from long range despite better options being available, for instance, is just one of the many examples.
Indeed, statistics can tell only part of the story at times and Mikel's performances in the Champions League demonstrate his flaws.
In comparison to Khedira, Mikel made an average of 46.8 passes per game, completing an impressive 90 percent. Khedira meanwhile was successful with 81.7 percent of his 34.8 passes for Real Madrid.
On the surface, Mikel's stats seem much the dominant, yet with 0.6 key passes to Khedira's 1.1 per match, it highlights one of his main criticisms—that Mikel hinders Chelsea's attacking flow. He wastes possession.
To reflect on Makelele's influence, he was such a success at Chelsea as he proved equally adept at breaking up attacks as he was starting them. It's a talent Mikel has lacked, but Khedira may just be the man to step in and belatedly take over the reins.
In the modern era, playing defensive midfield is termed the "Makelele Role" for a reason. The Frenchman made the position his own, changing what was expected of a player sitting in front of the back four.
It's not enough to be a tough tackler, harking back to the 1970s when an intimidating presence was just as vital as actual footballing ability. Defensive midfielders at the highest level must now demonstrate a certain level of acumen to couple any bravado, which Khedira does.
Mikel played an average of 2.8 long balls per game in the Champions League for Chelsea last term, a damaging statistic that suggests panic and erratic nature. Compare that to Khedira's 0.8 for Real Madrid and the picture becomes clearer.
Is Sami Khedira a better alternative to Chelsea's current defensive midfield options?
It's not just about statistics though. Character plays a vital role, too.
Mourinho's Chelsea requires a player with the discipline and nerve to see what's before him. A player who can feed Juan Mata, Eden Hazard et al as they attempt to cause damage further up the field. Long balls are not going to do it, especially in the Champions League, and with reports in the Daily Mail Mikel could be joining Galatasaray this summer, Mourinho knows it.
Chelsea need a striker to bolster their attack. They need a defensive midfielder to add solidity, too. In Khedira, they have the right man in their sights.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes
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