Chelsea: How Filipe Luis Arrival Might Affect Look of the Preferred Back Line

Hemant Dua@hemant_duaCorrespondent IIJuly 25, 2014

Atletico's Filipe Luis, right,  fights for the ball with Real's Gareth Bale during the Champions League final soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

A sum of £16 million is sizable for a defender, and with Filipe Luis being signed by Chelsea for a figure somewhere in that region (as per the Daily Mail), it is safe to presume Jose Mourinho has the Brazilian left-back earmarked for a starting role.

It was perhaps only fitting for a manager who places such great emphasis on having a watertight defense to bring in a key member of the best back line in La Liga last season.


Why was Luis signed?

The acquisition was undoubtedly a smart one. Luis is in his prime now and turns 29 next month. Cesar Azpilicueta, a right-back by trade, was the most frequent occupant of the left-back slot last season.

The departure of veteran Ashley Cole was always going to leave the Blues with a considerable hole to plug at the back. In Luis, though, the west Londoners have acquired a top-notch replacement ready to step right in and make the spot his own.

The modern full-back is expected to be as adept in possession as in defending. Luis ticks both boxes. Although his Primera Liga assist tally for 2013-14 stood at just two, it still bettered the combined Premier League 2013-14 tally of Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic.

I can, however, imagine there were a fair few skeptical about the transfer before it actually went through. This is a short-term fix. Moreover, the preferred back four of last season excelled. Why meddle with a winning formula?

If nothing else, the purchase of Luis adds much-needed depth in the position. With Cole's contract running out, the only alternatives to Cesar were Ryan Bertrand and Patrick van Aanholt.

I, for one, wanted to see Van Aanholt handed the chance his displays over the past two years merited. As it turns out, neither he nor Bertrand is held in high regard by the current management. That made dipping into the transfer market imperative.


Where does he fit in the scheme of things?

Chelsea had the best defensive record in the Premier League in 2013-14. Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Azpilicueta together formed the tightest back line in the land last term.

However, the new man Luis will surely slot straight into his preferred position at LB. Rare is it for a full-back to be signed for a hefty amount just for him to serve as deputy to someone else.

What last season's first-choice back-line looked like
What last season's first-choice back-line looked

That would essentially leave the four components of the previous season's first-choice defense to fight it out for three spots.


Who exactly is in danger of losing his spot?

Given the great understanding they've developed with one another, there's a very good chance that Terry and Cahill continue to be the preferred center-back pairing.

Such a scenario would bring things down to a direct face-off between Brana and the man nicknamed "Dave" for a place on the right side of defense.

Going by this Squawka Comparison matrix using last season's league stats, Azpilicueta betters Ivanovic in four key categories per 90 metrics. And he wasn't even playing on his natural side. The former averages more successful tackles, interceptions, blocks and clearances. Ivanovic's aerial superiority bodes well for him.

But given that Cesar has always looked more comfortable on the ball, he has a very good shot at dislodging the Serb as first-choice right-back.

The alternative situation would find Ivanovic in direct contention with Terry, Cahill and Kurt Zouma for starts at center-half. If there's one man who's probably done enough to be sure of his place, it's Cahill.

The 28-year-old Englishman was deservedly named to the PFA Team of the Year 2014 and is arguably the most complete out-and-out central defender currently on the club's books.

The next Squawka Comparison Matrix supports the above assertion. Looking at the more relevant parameters when it comes defending, Cahill triumphs over his captain Terry. As the stats would have it, Chelsea's No. 24 is indispensable to them.

JT, meanwhile, had a very good season himself. He signed a one-year contract extension at Chelsea back in May. He continues to be an excellent reader of the game.

Come to think of it, though, age is indeed catching up with him. There were times when it showed. Galatasaray's leveler against Chelsea in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal is a good example of how Terry can sometimes be slow to react.

Aurelien Chedjou escaped his attention from a corner to tap in from close range that night. There's no doubting the fact that Petr Cech was also at fault then, as he perhaps should have come off his line to claim that Wesley Sneijder corner. But the Terry of old would likely have been more aware of what was happening around him.

His own goal against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park was another moment to forget. It was more consequential, though. Chelsea lost ground on their league rivals that weekend, ultimately finishing third in the table.

The point is that Terry, 33 now, is undoubtedly more error-prone than he was in his prime. That he's lost a yard of pace doesn't help the cause. It was always his Achilles' heel anyway, we mustn't forget.

JT was out of favor under Rafael Benitez. That he came back so strong in Jose Mourinho's first season back at the club is a testament to his caliber and sheer determination. But if it all boils down to picking one from him and Ivanovic for a role next to Cahill, I know I would go with the latter. Brana, 30, is at the peak of his powers presently.

What the Chelsea defense might look like in their opening league game
What the Chelsea defense might look like in their opening league

Considering the weighted average of both possibilities, it appears Luis' arrival threatens the starting berths of Azpilicueta and Terry the most.

Branislav Ivanovic is a Mourinho favorite, but is he one of his untouchables? He did play 36 of the 38 league games last term. And he will be in contention for two different positions. I can see Jose finding a place for him in the starting XI.

Should Luis be deemed the right man to start at left-back on the opening day of the Premier League campaign—and he likely will be—someone will have to make way. Cesar Azpilicueta could well be that man, and on the face of it, that would be tough luck. John Terry could just as easily be the casualty.

While we can't say that a great reshuffle of the back line is on the cards, a big-name defender could be set to lose his place. And it might just be the skipper himself.


*All stats courtesy Squawka


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