Scrambling to sign transfers before the end of January, Chelsea announced they have confirmed an agreement with FC Basel midfielder Mohamed Salah. The agreement, estimated to be worth as much as £16 million (per EuroSport.com), comes after Liverpool had been pursuing Salah heavily during the transfer window, only for the midfielder to sign with Chelsea.
Chelsea are anticipating the loss of midfielder Juan Mata to Manchester United before the trade window closes and Jose Mourinho moved to secure Salah as a replacement.
[It] was a surprise for us that Juan was leaving and we were not prepared to make a bid or try to bring a player to replace Juan in the squad. ... Everything happened very very fast, we had to work on that and try to see which options could be good options for us and finally we decided to try and go for Salah.
Salah is a logical replacement, if not a better manifestation of Mata’s midfield strength, more suited to Chelsea’s “defensive tempo,” argues Goal.com’s Ewan Roberts.
Because of the 4-2-3-1 formation of Mourinho’s team, attacking midfielders are of particular importance for the Blues, and Salah is just the player for the job.
In 18 appearances for Basel this season, Salah has scored six goals, two of which came in UEFA Champions League games. The 21-year-old Egyptian has also been a frequent annoyance for English teams, scoring three goals against the Premier League in the last nine months.
Though Salah is relatively young, his versatility in the midfield would be a significant asset for Chelsea heading into the spring. He is incredibly quick and has great field positioning, creating opportunities for himself in front of the goal.
Furthermore, Salah is a strong passer with a 77 percent average pass accuracy and, more importantly, 55 percent of those passes have been forward (as per Squawka).
Though not the sexiest stat, Salah’s ability to move the ball forward is an essential quality in a midfielder and one that the Blues need to leverage moving forward.
Chelsea are just one point behind Manchester City (and only two points behind Premier League-leaders Arsenal), so the Blues are in prime position to make a run heading into the latter half of the season.
To do that, they’ll need a tighter midfield and a stronger attacking game. Salah has been instrumental in exposing the Blues’ weakness, scoring against Chelsea in three of the last four meetings between Chelsea and Basel.
Salah is Chelsea’s second acquisition during the trade window, in addition to midfielder Nemanja Matic, a clear indication of Mourinho’s move to bolster his all-important midfield team.
The Blues have been dominant offensively in the past few months, scoring 34 goals in their last 18 games. With two new additions to the midfield, defensive strength could be all Chelsea need to capitalize on their offensive success and climb to the top of the Premier League.