Chelsea Transfer News: 5 Possible Replacements for Yuri Zhirkov

Louis Hamwey@thecriterionmanAnalyst IIIAugust 3, 2011

Chelsea Transfer News: 5 Possible Replacements for Yuri Zhirkov

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    Earlier today, reported that Chelsea midfielder Yuri Zhirkov may be on his way out of Stamford Bridge. News suggested that Zhirkov spent last night completing arrangements for his sale to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala for £13.2m.

    He arrived in West London in the summer of 2009 for a reported fee of £18m. Three million more than his Arsenal had spent for Andre Arshavin earlier that year, making Zhirkov the most expensive Russian player ever.

    In two years with the club under former boss Carlo Ancelotti, Zhirkov struggled to find regular playing time as he only made 48 appearances in that span, and many as a sub. This preseason he had shared as much time on the pitch as any of his teammates, but must have failed to impress Ander Villa-Boas in light of this move.

    It was always difficult expectations for him to come in and bump either Ashely Cole or Florent Malouda out of their starting spots. This move was probably as much his idea than anyone's:

    "Unfortunately, at Chelsea I haven't had enough match practice in the last season," he told reporters. "I want to play football and not to sit on the bench."

    With Euros less than a year away, it is necessary for him to have adequate playing time in the 2011/12 season if he is to make the squad. Abramovich may have had his hand as much int the move to get him to Anzhi Makhachkala as he did in bringing him to Chelsea for the same nationalistic reasons.

    Losing Zhirkov will not disrupt the balance of the team or leave a gaping hole in the Chelsea line up. But it will need to be replaced by someone. Here are five potential players who could fill Zhirkov's shoes.

Luka Modric

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    If Modric's name ever came up and had serious legitimacy it would be right now. The other day I wrote about how the Spurs' stance on the Croatian is that they "do not look like they will budge for any reasonable sum." Well that key word of "reasonable" may have just flown out the window.

    The Metro is reporting that some of the funds from Zhirkov's transfer will be placed directly into Chelsea's third offer for Modric, bringing the new amount to a staggering £38 million.

    Villa-Boas has reportedly been adamant about making the Croatian his first big signing in a Chelsea uniform and it is easy to see why. He has the fluidity as a player and vision as a passer necessary to unlock tight defenses. He also adds much needed depth to the central midfield.

    For a fee of £38 million, club management will really have to be assured that this is the right move. Earlier in this 'saga', Chelsea were adamant about not giving up too much for Modric. That that methodology has now gone by the wayside.

    It seems illogical to give a rival team that you are well aware is in need of a high priced striker that amount of money. Hypothetically they could use some of that and steal Lukaku from the Blues with the promise of immediate playing time.

    Should be a fun next decade if you're a Spurs fan and he and Souleymane Coulibaly live up to their potential.

    Chelsea supporters seem to be split on whether Modric is really the missing piece to Chelsea's woes, but as the cost increases so does expectations and therefore skepticism.

Alvaro Pereira

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    So far, Villa-Boas has failed to lure Falcao, Hulk or Moutinho away from his former club. With Falcao signing a new contract, Hulk having an astronomical release clause to meet, and Moutinho being the heart of the squad, he may have to turn else where to retain some continuity from his treble-winning side.

    Alvaro Pereira played left back for Porto last season and was one of the best and most reliable players on the squad, as well as the most underrated players in the game at the position.

    He helped lead Uruguay to South American glory, capturing their 15th continental title in this year's Copa America. But for his national side he played in a much more attacking role in the midfield.

    This is the key to why Pereira makes such logical sense for Villa-Boas to pursue. Zhirkov's attraction was the fact that he could wear many hats. He would feel comfortable in the central midfield, out wide on the wing, or on the left side of the back line. Pereira has a similar disposition and can be maneuvered accordingly.

    He also has a more attacking mind than Zhirkov, which fits Villa-Boas' philosophy better.

    Like Zhirkov he will not come in and replace Cole, but he may not have to. Between his ability to play the wing and the left back spot, he could essentially rotate between the two positions for whoever needs a rest.

    Ashley Cole played in far too many games last season and went the distance in many. At age 30, you cannot expect him to do that and have life when it comes to the end of the season. But he had to play out of necessity as Ancelotti must not have felt he had an adequate sub to take his place.

    With Pereira on the team, a rest every couple of games would keep Cole fresh, not to mention subbing on an explosive wing back like him would be a tactical nightmare for opposing teams looking to secure a win or draw.


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    As usual, Jose Mourinho has decided that the only way to beat Barcelona and Lionel Messi is to spend as much money as possible, bringing in big name players with no where to put them. One example would be former Benifica defender Fabio Coentrão. For a cool €30M he now has two world-class left backs in Coentrão and Marcelo.

    Chelsea would do nicely to take the latter off their hands.

    At a fee of only € 6.5M, Madrid got one of the most versatile and best left side players in the game back in 2007. However, their best deal on their entire roster as well as their vice-captain, may see his position in jeopardy.

    I have yet to find any real transfer links suggesting Marcelo is unhappy at the club and is looking to move on, but that does not stop from speculating on what he would mean at Chelsea.

    Signing Marcelo to replace Zhirkov would be like trading in your Toyota for a Lexus. The job will still get done, but look much nicer doing it.

    Like every Brazilian defender he loves to come up and join the attack. You almost have to put him on a leash to keep him from going past the midfield. But in Villa-Boas' system, he is the exact kind of player you want.

    He would work a very similar role as I mentioned Pereira would, not quite taking over for Ashley Cole, but given AVB a reliable option when Cole needs some rest. He also could very easily be put in a role as a winger, if the boss is unable to find someone who suits his needs there.

    At only 23 years old he could be a long term replacement for Cole as well. Ryan Bertrand did OK in preseason games in the left back position, but the jury is still out if he can adequately fill shoes that have been consistently the best for the past five seasons.

    With Marcelo you are already getting a player who is near, if not at, Cole's level. You can only expect him to get better with time.

Yann M'Vila

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    Chelsea suffered there first huge loss of the season in the first week of training camp, when Michael Essien was ruled out for six months with a torn ACL. That news pushed Zhirkov up the depth chart as Ramires and other players would slide around to fill the hole left by the Ghanian.

    But perhaps the best way to replace him is to sign a player of the future that has similar attributes. Yann M'Vila is that man.

    Rennes' defensive midfielder is being highly touted as the future of French football. He has played at every level of the national team since the age of 16 and already has 10 appearances at the for the seniors.

    On 25 March 2011, M'Vila completed 92.5 percent of his 134 attempted passes in a 2–0 UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying win over Luxembourg. The feat was the best by any France player in an international match since 2006.

    He is not the most electrifying or creative player, but plays years beyond his age with confidence and consistency.

    Essien has always been able to bring a certain spark to the team with a box-to-box dribble or a strike from 30 yards, but what has always been his strongest point is his consistent ability to control the midfield. M'Vila demonstrates the beginning steps of this understanding.

    At only 21 years old, he has plenty of time to develop into a long term replacement for injury-prone Essien.

    Funds from Zhirkov's move could be much better used to secure a young player on the rise and whose demand will only go up. There are plenty of good creative midfielders that can be had for a price of £38 million. But a player like M'Vila comes around only once a generation.


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    Yes, I am well aware that he is already on the team, but he still has yet to play under Andre Villa-Boas. Him and David Luiz are enjoying a short vacation between Copa America and the start of the season, so we as fans have yet to see how they fit in the 'new Chelsea'.

    Odds are that Ramires will be even better than he was under Ancelotti in this new system. It replicates much more what he is use to at Brazil, where he was one of a very few bright spots on a side that underachieved.

    He pretty much commanded a position on the field throughout most of last season and was the primary reason Zhirkov found the bench. The two rotated and not much was loss in doing so. But with his Russian backup now gone, he must step up and be ready to play a full 40-game schedule at his best every week.

Who Do You Think Will Replace Zhirkov...?

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    ...If anyone?