With so much competition in the attacking midfield now for Chelsea, getting consistent playing time will become an issue for the players behind Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, but if anyone can break up the Mazacar triumvirate, it's Kevin De Bruyne.
Chelsea have done a number of seemingly wise things over this summer transfer period, but one of the smartest things new manager José Mourinho did was make sure the Blues did not let the 22-year-old phenom go elsewhere for sale or on loan.
With Chelsea's starting XI in a state of flux, as it tends to be for all clubs, it’s hard to deem some players as “regulars,” and De Bruyne should fall into that category: a player chasing a regular starting spot.
But if any of the new members of the Europa League champions can fight their way into a perceived regular starting spot, it will be De Bruyne and striker Romelu Lukaku.
Also available at the position for the Blues are André Schürrle, Victor Moses and now Willian, who will establish a real glut at the spot once he is granted a work permit. This may eventually lead to Moses’ departure, either for good or on loan.
De Bruyne proved to be a shining star for a Belgian national team loaded with talent this past summer, and although he may not end up being a huge goalscorer for Chelsea, his potential as a facilitator is immense.
Now if the Blues could only sign a decent striker or two for De Bruyne to feed.
One area De Bruyne seems to be exceptional at is his crosses, but with big targets Fernando Torres (6’0”) and Demba Ba (6’2”) looking lost more often than not, turning these passes into productive headers will be an exercise in futility until Mourinho addresses this deficiency at the striker spot.
Perhaps Chelsea will decide to change to a 4-3-3 tactical formation to accommodate the current first-team roster.
Passing to fellow midfielders Mata, Hazard and scoring machine Frank Lampard as well as Lukaku seems like the best way for De Bruyne to make his mark on the West London club, but those passes will likely have to be ground-level ones as Mata (5’9”) and Hazard (5’7”) are relatively short and Lampard (35 years old) has lost a step and is now primarily employed in the central midfield.
But can De Bruyne also evolve into a solid goalscorer for Chelsea?
Most definitely. But until his role is defined on this constantly changing team, we won’t see him reach his full potential at Stamford Bridge.
Over the preseason, De Bruyne—who was loaned out to Werder Bremen in Germany’s Bundesliga last season, where he was second to Die Grün-Weißen with 10 goals—was magnificent and showed why Mourinho was wise to keep him on the Blues' first-team roster.
Now, playing alongside guys like Mata, Hazard and Oscar, De Bruyne will only get better and the vote of confidence to stay at Chelsea now should reap real rewards for both him and the club down the road.
De Bruyne will likely be used on the right wing, and he may get the start there when the Blues head to Old Trafford to dance with English Premier League champions Manchester United in its home opener on Monday (NBC Sports, 3 p.m. ET).
With a couple of breakout performances early in the season, De Bruyne may make it very hard for the Special One to leave him out of his starting XI for big games this year.
With so many talented Belgians now in the fold at Chelsea, like wunderkind goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who is currently out on loan again at Atlético Madrid, it’s difficult not to imagine a future Blues squad with the four of them—De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku and Courtois—all in the starting lineup a few years from now.
So keep your eyes on the baby-faced redhead with the No. 15 shirt on as he slowly becomes as effective as stud teammates Mata and Hazard in Chelsea’s attacking midfield. He is truly one to watch.
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