Chelsea have been very, very busy this January. The team started by bringing back midfielder Nemanja Matic, who became one of the better midfielders in Europe in the past several years with Benfica. They somewhat shockingly sold Juan Mata. And they brought aboard young winger Mohamed Salah.
In the former two players, fans and pundits alike generally know what Chelsea either gained or lost. But Salah is a little less known, so what exactly are the Blues getting?
According to Branislav Ivanovic, they might just be getting another Arjen Robben. His comments, via Dominic Fifield of The Guardian:
With the ball he is very quick, very smart with his movement, the kind of player that we need in the squad. He reminds me of Robben, the way he plays always going from the right wing but going inside left-footed. He is a great player, one we know because we've played against him in the last two years. He is young and has time and it's maybe good for him to step up. I hope he is going to be important for us.
High praise, indeed.
Of course, in his scouting report of the 21-year-old, Ross Dunbar of the Mirror evoked the name of another Bayern Munich winger:
Quite hard to compare—he's not necessarily a winger—but he has similar traits to Franck Ribery, on the opposite side of the pitch.
Despite playing notably wider than most attacking forwards—those who aren’t wingers – he has the intelligence to find space, while playing in an inverted style on to his left-foot, and he is willing to come out wide to get the ball.
Salah is a very quick runner off the ball, but he’s yet to convert that extra yard of pace into his game when in possession. But sharp decision-making and movement is key to the Egyptian’s overall game and Salah has superb composure in-front of goal.
No pressure or anything, kid.
Salah isn't an upgrade over Mata, of course, but he does seem like a better fit for Chelsea. Mata really is a true No. 10 despite his ability to play out wide, and he just didn't fit Jose Mourinho's system. Having Oscar at the No. 10 didn't help, as Mourinho clearly preferred the Brazilian.
But the "Special One" seems to prefer inverted wingers, and Salah is still moldable enough to learn to double back defensively, something Mata did not excel at doing. Mourinho spoke about his appreciation of Salah's versatility as well, via John Drayton of the Daily Mail:
I like the fact that he can play the same way our attacking players do, which is players with adaptability, to play right, left, or behind the striker. He's young, he's fast, he's creative, he's enthusiastic. When we analysed him he looks the kind of humble personality on the pitch, ready to work for the team and to work and to adapt himself to a new life.
With Mourinho, the ability to adapt is everything. Just ask Mata.
Of course, Salah plays with the mentality of a forward, so he'll need to make some adjustments for the Blues. And he'll also need to accept early in his career that he's stuck behind Hazard, Oscar and Willian, a pretty dynamic attacking midfielder line.
But the move allows Chelsea to move forward with the starting line-up they wanted in the first place and a player in Salah that won't be disappointed to come off the bench and one that fits the system better when he does.
It's one step back from Mata for the moment, but two steps ahead for as long as Mourinho is around. All in all, it feels like the right fit.