The long awaited move of Jose Mourinho to Real Madrid has sparked concern over his desire to raid the Premiership for its top players.
Yes, that's right, raid the EPL of its best players, and that includes English players, a rather rare export for the country. The only noteworthy players in the past ten years that have left the country have played for Madrid in Steve McMananman, David Beckham, and Michael Owen.
It is not that the English players are not talented, but the style of the EPL is so different that it is hard to find a place for them abroad. So why does Mourinho want these specific players to go with the fancy and free flowing full of isolation sets in Madrid?
That is the one thing that the EPL has more of than any other league. It's not simply the pace, and not simply the tackling, it's a frenetic physicality that is reminiscent of the Red Coats at the Battle of the Dunes. It is a dedication to be tenacious for every single ball. It is what makes Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, and Ashley Cole world-class.
Let's be honest, how many world class dribblers and isolation set guys do you see in the top English sides? No more than five at the most. But what these sides are filled with are ball winners, something that Mourinho's whole system is built on.
His best playmakers are also ball winners, from Deco at Porto, to Makelele and Lampard at Chelsea, and Sneijder this past season at Inter. All of them are capable of tackling, winning the ball, and setting up chances.
At Madrid, The Special One only has one true ball winner in his midfield in Xabi Alonso. He is also their primary deep playmaker that is expected to link all the way up the field to Kaka and Ronaldo, neither of which is great at taking the ball, but brilliant with it.
In a Gerrard and Lampard, you have players that are great off the ball, play box-to-box, tackle, and act as a great second passer from the back and middle. In Essien, you get a player that no one is able to mark in space. In Cole, you get the flair from the fullback position that Mourinho loves to use.
Now what does this all mean for Chelsea?
Does it mean fear for our players and them leaving for Madrid? Maybe, especially Ashley Cole, because I think he is the one Mourinho wants most for his system. It also means that it's possible to grab someone like Kaka from Madrid in return.
Not a fan? Understandable, he's lost some pace and had some health issues. So has Essien, look at how many games he's missed in the past two seasons, does that mean he's not world-class? Absolutely not.
Chelsea is the most physical side in perhaps the entire world, combined with good passing, great ball winning, and an excellent coach, they already look like a top four side in Europe next season.
But the Blues are still missing "it." Only one or two players on the whole team can actually attack with a dribble into tight areas (unless they start bringing Kakuta into the game more often), and rely more on resetting passes into space to score.
Has it been a poor strategy? As far as the Premiership is concerned, no, they won the double after all. But against sides that are obsessive about possession like Barcelona, or against a similarly tough and organized side in Inter, yes, it is a problem. Outside of Florent Malouda and Nicholas Anelka, there is no one that really links that powerful midfield to Drogba up front.
Attacks used the ability of the fullbacks to bomb down the wings, open up the center where Lampard and Ballack gain some space to make the passes that apply pressure in the penalty area. But against Inter, the inability to win the ball and then unlock the defense was the reason for the losses over both legs.
It's that little spark that would make Chelsea the kings of Europe, it's the other half of the puzzle. Mourinho recognizes that both pieces are required to win the Champions League, and Ancelotti once had those pieces too, the question is whether or not he will be able to get them again.
Take into consideration if Yaya Toure and Kaka were to join Chelsea.
Unlikely? Perhaps. Unnecessary considering the midfield depth? Absolutely not.
In getting both players you get two excellent passers that give the perfect amount of freedom to the trio of Essien, Lampard, and Malouda, which in turn frees up Drogba to grab even more goals. You also give Ancelotti just what he wants to set up his Christmas Tree, the same formation that brought him so much success in Europe.
So Jose, you're not the only one that sees what the pieces are to win in Europe, your raid could be the key to the side you once managed to brilliantly to reach the heights you've reached in every stop but London.
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