Cesc Fabregas

Chelsea’s signing of Pedro further enforces how much the top English clubs are lagging behind

Chelsea today announced the signing of Barcelona forward Pedro for £21 million, beating rivals Manchester United to his signature, but it highlights the fall in the Premier League’s pulling power.

There is no doubting the quality of the man who boasts three Champions League medals, five La Ligas, one World Cup and a European Championship among others in his collection, but he has only come available once deemed surplus to requirements at Barcelona following the arrivals of Neymar and Luis Suarez in recent years.

One of Jose Mourinho’s big money additions last summer Cesc Fabregas arrived in England under similar circumstances, leaving Catalonia after only winning one La Liga and one Spanish Cup domestically back home as well as Ivan Rakitic pushing him out the eleven.

Making himself at home: Pedro reunites with friend Fabregas

Making himself at home: Pedro reunites with friend Fabregas

Not only that, but back in 2011 he departed the club that gave him his professional debut, Arsenal, as soon as boyhood team Barcelona came calling again.

Arsenal’s big money moves from recent seasons, Mesut Ozil (£42.4 million) and Alexis Sanchez (£35 million) were too both castaways from La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

The Gunners are currently too in the hunt for Madrid’s Karim Benzema, a talented striker, but one that scored just 15 goals last term, 33 behind leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

Even giants Manchester United are losing the ability to attract the biggest talents on the planet. Angel di Maria joined from Madrid this time last year for a British record fee of £59.7 million after he found himself out of favour due to political reasons of not being as globally marketable as James Rodriguez who shone at the 2014 World Cup prior to joining the Spanish capital.

Di Maria flopped at Old Trafford and promptly signed for PSG, the club he reportedly wanted to be at instead of Manchester United, earlier this month.

City of Love: Di Maria has left for PSG after never being fond of England

City of Love: Di Maria has left for PSG after never being fond of England

Louis van Gaal’s side added Bastian Schweinsteiger to their ranks during pre-season, but his ex-manager Pep Guardiola has said the German is past his best so was evidently happy to sell the one time World Cup winner.

Fellow Bayern Munich man Thomas Muller is also being targeted, but the chances of signing Bavaria’s favourite son will be slim, with a £60 million bid already rumoured to have been rejected.

Attempts to sign Sergio Ramos too were rebuffed, while first choice goalkeeper David De Gea is also likely to leave if Real Madrid show the desire to sign him.

The Premier League may well be the most watched and most competitive league in the world, but when it comes to the transfer market, the world’s elite would rather stay at home.

BenjaminWills’Blog Premier League Team of the Season so far (2014/15)

The Premier League always offers drama, excitement, and talking points, and the 2014/15 season has not failed to disappoint so far. Here are the 11 men who have caught the eye of BenjaminWills’Blog from August to December.

Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Manchester United)

Spain international De Gea has really made an impact in English football after overcoming a stuttering debut season in 2011/12 and is considered by many to be one of, if not the, best Goalkeeper in the Premier League.

De Gea has managed six clean sheets this season so far despite playing behind a much talked about inexperienced Manchester United defence that has included the likes of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair at centre back as well as winger Ashley Young as a makeshift wing-back.

He has made a string of impressive stops, most notably from Bryan Oviedo against Everton in the dying stages to keep it at 2-1 and in the home clash with Liverpool where Raheem Sterling looked certain to score.

Saving from Private Bryan: De Gea keeps out Oviedo

Saving from Private Bryan: De Gea keeps out Oviedo

Honourable Mention(s): Robert Green (QPR) who has made the most saves so far this season with 59 and Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) who has kept the most clean sheets (Seven) and least goals conceded (14).

Right Back: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)

Southampton have surprised many this campaign, spending a large section of the latter end of 2014 in the top four despite losing five first teamers and their manager in the summer.

The Saints have conceded just 15 goals in their 19 games with season with only leaders Chelsea conceding less (14) with Clyne part of an impressive foursome that also features Jose Fonte, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Bertrand.

Clyne is the most proficient tackler in the league with 48 successes when attempting to win the ball and his quality displays were rewarded with his full England debut against Slovenia in November.

Clyne-ing up the pecking order: England may have found their right-back.

Clyne-ing up the pecking order: England may have found their right-back.

Honourable Mention(s): Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) and Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea).

Centre Back: John Terry (Chelsea)

Many have compared the current Chelsea team to that of 2004/05 where they romped to the title with a record 95 points.

One of the few surviving members of that side is captain John Terry who, if you go by stats, is performing even better than he did 10 years ago.

He has won a higher percentage of his tackles, more of his duels, and conceded less fouls. To quote a famous Chelsea banner; “Captain. Leader. Legend”.

Better at 34 than 24? John Terry is in fine form.

Better at 34 than 24? John Terry is in fine form.

Centre Back: Toby Alderweireld (Southampton)

Tobias Albertine Maurits Alderweireld, or “Toby”, to his friends, Alderweireld has been the cement in the heart of the Saints’ defence with partner Fonte while Bertrand and the previously mentioned Clyne are doing the business on the flanks.

Alderweireld swapped the Spanish capital for the South Coast in September to get more first team football, he is getting it, and his performances make you wonder why he has not had a look in at Vicente Calderon.

The Belgian defender has won 17 tackles, losing just 12, won 22 aerial duels, made 89 clearances while comitting zero defensive errors. His loan at St.Mary’s could well be made permanent in the near future.

TA

To-by or not To-by: Will Southampton make his loan deal permanent next Summer?

Honourable Mention(s): Winston Reid (West Ham) and Jose Fonte (Southampton).

Left Back: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Chelsea fans’ Player of the Year last year Azpilicueta is shining again this term, although he is naturally a right back, “Dave” has taken to the other side like a duck to water.

So much so that even Champions League runner up Felipe Luis has failed to dislodge his spot in the Chelsea 11.

He has made great strides since his under the radar £7 million arrival from Marseille in August 2012 and has proven to be a fine replacement for Ashley Cole.

Just call me Dave: Azpilicueta has faultlessly made the transition from right to left back.

Just call me Dave: Azpilicueta has faultlessly made the transition from right to left back.

Honourable Mention(s): Aaron Cresswell (West Ham), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United) and Ryan Bertrand (Southampton).

Right Midfield: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

It is a surprise to no-one how much of an impact Alexis has made on the Premier League in such a short space of time.

The Chilean terror arrived in North London from Barcelona for £35 million five months ago on the back of a successful World Cup, scoring two goals in four games as Chile reached the last 16 ahead of holders Spain in Group B.

And he made an immediate impression on Gunners fans, helping his new team to a 3-0 win over Champions Manchester City in the Community shield on his debut and soon started scoring goals. 10 of them in fact, in 18 games, making him the fourth top scorer so far.

Agent of Shield: Sanchez has been Arsenal's Superhero.

Agent of Shield: Sanchez has been Arsenal’s Superhero this season.

Honourable Mention(s): Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Centre Midfield: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)

Arguably the player of the season so far, Cesc Fabregas’ form on his return to the Premier League has picked up from when he departed Chelsea’s London rivals Arsenal in 2011.

Back then he had already established himself as the sixth best assister in Premier League history with 71 in eight years but has leap-frogged former Arsenal team mate Thierry Henry into fifth since his move to the West side of the capital.

Fabregas has contributed 13 assists in his 18 games in a Blue shirt, with two goals to his name as well. He is Chelsea’s most influential player in the final third by a mile.

Absolutely Fab-ulous: Fabregas is arguably the Player of the Season so far.

Absolutely Fab-ulous: Fabregas is arguably the Player of the Season so far.

Centre Midfield: Nemanja Matic (Chelsea)

While the aforementioned Fabregas is the go to guy to put the finishing touches to Chelsea’s attacking play, Nemanja Matic is very much the man who gets things started.

Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are often the subject of the plaudits to the 41 goals the Blues have scored this season (joint highest in the league with Manchester City), Matic has been the driving force behind them.

BenjaminWills’Blog has waxed lyrical about Matic in the past and it appears this season the imposing Serbia anchor man is getting the praise he so truly deserves.

Comeback King: Matic has become Chelsea's most important player three years after his exile.

Comeback King: Matic has become Chelsea’s most important player three years after his exile.

Honourable Mention(s): Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Alex Song (West Ham), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) and Michael Carrick (Manchester United).

Left Midfield: Stewart Downing (West Ham)

If there is one player from this side that is best defined as the “most improved” then Stewart Downing is that player.

The revitalised England winger has scored four goals, assisted six and created 54 chances already this campaign while he only managed three goals, two assists and created just 62 chances throughout the whole of last season.

In the first half of 2014/15, he has set up more goals than the heavily praised David Silva who has just two assists to his name and created 31 chances with Downing also boasting more key passes (48) to Silva’s 29.

It is a completely different Downing to the one who scored zero goals and fashioned zero assists in the 2011/12 season for Liverpool.

Happy Hammer: Stewart Downing is back to his best.

Happy Hammer: Stewart Downing is back to his best.

Honourable Mention(s): David Silva (Manchester City)

Striker: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

The Premiership’s top marksman at the halfway stage is a deadly diminutive forward that goes by the name of Sergio Aguero.

A World Cup runner up in July, Aguero has bounced back from that bitter disappointment and has rediscovered his scoring boots after he failed to find the back of the net in Brazil.

He is having no such problem domestically though, scoring 14 goals and is eight clear of City’s next top scorer Silva. It says a lot about Aguero that he is had his injury issues this season but is still top of the league’s goal scoring charts.

Argentine Assasion: Aguero is in hot form as ever.

Argentine Assasion: Aguero is in hot form as ever.

Striker: Diego Costa (Chelsea)

Costa arrived on English soil to more than a few doubters to his ability, but, he has, quite literally, pushed all of that to one side.

The imposing Brazilian-born Spaniard, 25, has bulldozed his way past most Premier League defences and notched 13 goals from 54 shots in the process as Chelsea have stormed to the summit.

That tally is one less than Aguero with 14 (one came from the penalty spot) while the little Argentine needed 22 more shots than his fellow former Atletico star striker.

Deadly Diego: At long last Chelsea have found a striker they can rely on.

Deadly Diego: At long last Chelsea have found a striker they can rely on.

Honourable Mention(s): Charlie Austin (QPR) and Graziano Pelle (Southampton)

Here is BenjaminWills’Blog Team of the Season so far in graphic form then:

Graphic

TOTS graphic provided by @YidNick

Nemanja Matic is the lynchpin of the modern Chelsea

He may not be the man who grabs all the headlines but the defeat to Newcastle proved that Chelsea do not fully tick without their dynamic Serbian.

Chelsea lost their unbeaten run that stretched back to late April, 24 games in total, in the North East on Saturday lunchtime – the only game Nemanja Matic has not featured in in that time, due to a suspension.

The absence of Matic was clear to see, Cesc Fabregas struggled to find the space to be the orchestra of Chelsea’s attack and therefore the normally prolific Diego Costa had limited chances and ultimately failed to hit the back of the net.

Matic has made 840 successful passes with an 89% completion rate, won 37 tackles, made 29 interceptions and made 44 clearances. The last three totals are the highest out of the rest of Chelsea’s regular midfield five of him, Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar. *

Fabregas is the man that unlocks defences, contributing 38 key passes and 11 assists in his 15 league games this season but the physicality of Moussa Sissoko, Chieck Tiote and most notably Jack Colback stunted the Spaniard at St.James’ Park.

It was a problem Chelsea had in the Champions League last season too with Matic ineligible having already featured in the competition for Benfica.

The West Londoners needed a last minute winner to overcome Paris Saint-Germain in the Quarter Finals and played six defenders in the 1-3 defeat at home to Atletico Madrid (Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta).

Not a problem the Blues have had this campaign, winning three and drawing two and already securing their spot in the last 16 with one game remaining.

Chelsea’s unbeaten run may be over, but a Chelsea with Matic on the pitch remain without a loss. That may continue for a long time to come.

*All stats via Squawka

Chelsea 6-0 Maribor (Remy ’13, Drogba pen ’23, Terry ’31, Viler OG ’54, Hazard pen ’77, ’90)

Chelsea strolled to an emphatic 6-0 win over Slovenian champions Maribor to remain top of group G after three matches.

Goals from Loic Remy, John Terry, an own goal by Mitja Vila and two penalties from Didier Drogba and Eden Hazard secured the three points for the Blues at Stamford Bridge in what was a comfortable night for the Premier League leaders.

Remy opened the scoring 13 minutes in when he cut inside a Maribor defender and buried a shot into the bottom right corner past Jasmin Handanovic.

The France International had to be replaced soon after though due to an injury he suffered during the celebration of his second goal for Chelsea.

His replacement Drogba made it 2-0 to the hosts after 23 minutes with a penalty following Ales Mertelj’s handball.

It was three nine minutes later when captain Terry slid in to convert Cesc Fabregas’ low cross across the face of goal.

Number four came on 54 minutes through a Vila own goal, diverting the ball into his own net from Eden Hazard’s cutback.

The fifth was a second penalty coming 13 minutes before the end, Hazard calmly sending Handanovic the wrong way but sending his team very much the right way.

Maribor did have the opportunity for a consolation with a penalty of their own midway through the second half when Agin Ibraimi was brought down by Nemanja Matic in the box but the Maribor midfielder who took the spot kick himself was denied by the post.

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Luis, Fabregas (Ake ’60), Matic, Oscar (Solanke ’73), Hazard, Willian, Remy (Drogba ’16)

Subs not used: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Salah

Maribor: Handanovic, Suler, Filipovic, Mejac, Tavares (Mendy ’72), Ibraimi (Zahovic ’68), Rajcevic, Viler (Vrsic ’57), Stojanovic, Bohar, Mertelj

Subs not used: Cotman, Ndiaye, Sallalich, Arghus

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal

Chelsea ended a high tempered London derby triumphant over Arsenal, winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.

Costa sealed the three points 12 minutes before the end when he lobbed Wojciech Szczesny after being set up by a delicious Cesc Fabregas pass that beat the Arsenal defence all ends up.

Hazard opened the scoring for the West Londoners when his run where he dribbled past three despairing defenders culminated in Laurent Koscielny bringing down the Belgian in the box and the defender maybe should have been shown his marching orders.

23-year-old Hazard stepped up himself and slotted it past Szczesny with 27 minutes played.

Events off the pitch were the main talking points of the first half however with managers Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger engaging in a touchline spat as a result of a crunching Gary Cahill challenge on Alexis Sanchez.

Wenger was of the opinion Cahill should have seen red for his foul and, after some wind up tactics from his adversary Mourinho, pushed the Portuguese coach in the chest.

Calum Chambers was arguably fortunate to stay on the pitch as well, not picking up a second yellow card for pulling down Andre Schurrle.

Eden Hazard opens the scoring from the spot.

Eden Hazard opens the scoring from the spot.

Arsenal also had reason to feel adjudged by referee Martin Atkinson when Jack Wilshere’s shot was blocked by the hand of ex Gunner Fabregas.

Chelsea were worthy winners but an early injury to Thibaut Courtois provided a minor bleak point to their victory. He was replaced by Petr Cech 24 minutes in.

Chelsea: Courtois (Cech ’24) Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas, Schurrle (Mikel ’69), Oscar (Willian ’87), Hazard, Diego Costa

Subs not used: Zouma, Filipe Luis, Salah, Remy

Arsenal: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Wilshere (Rosicky ’83), Flamini, Cazorla (Oxlade-Chamberlain ’69), Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck

Subs not used: Martinez, Monreal, Coquelin, Campbell, Podolski

Burnley 1-3 Chelsea

A ruthless Chelsea tore apart Burnley at Turf Moor after Scott Arfield gave Jose Mourinho’s side an early scare.

Debutant Diego Costa, World Cup winner Andre Schurrle and Branislav Ivanovic were on the score sheet for the West Londoners.

Cesc Fabregas put in a man of the match performance on his return to the Premier League, contributing two assists for his new club.

It was Burnley who took the lead though when Scott Arfield scored an exquisite volley, chesting down Matthew Taylor’s cross, letting the ball bounce and firing past Thibaut Courtois after 13 minutes.

Chelsea responded in the perfect fashion, equalizing four minutes later when Costa seized on a deflected low Ivanovic cross and smashed home first time with his weaker left foot for 1-1.

Dream debut for Diego: Costa levels in Burnley

Dream debut for Diego: Costa levels in Burnley

Schurrle completed the quick-fire comeback three minutes after when he tucked in from a tight angle after a 20 pass plus move.

The par excellence was Fabregas’ majestic pass from Ivanovic’s cross. A disguised shot that turned into a delicate assist on the volley – a real tour de force.

Ivanovic effectedly sealed the game when he broke free of his marker to turn in Fabregas’ corner ten minutes before the break.

There was one minor sour note to Chelsea’s first half of the season however, Costa recieved a booking for simulation when he went down in the box, tripping over Tom Heaton’s hand as he tried to round the former Cardiff ‘keeper.

Newly promoted side Burnley struggled to break Chelsea down in the second half, Arfield producing their best opportunity, a curler, that would have reduced the deficit if it wasn’t for a world class save by Courtois, tipping it out for a corner at full strength.

Jose Mourinho’s dominant side opted not to create any opportunities either and were content the 1-3 scoreline.

Travelling Chelsea supporters were treated to a late cameo from returning hero Didier Drogba when he replaced Eden Hazard six minutes from time.

Burnley: Heaton, Trippier, Shackell, Duff, Mee, Arfield, Jones, Marney, Taylor (Kightly ’70), Ings (Sordell ’82), Jutkiewicz (Barnes ’70)

Subs not used: Gilks, Dummigan, Long, Wallace

Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Schurrle (Willian ’78), Oscar (Mikel ’82), Hazard (Drogba ’84) Costa

Subs not used: Cech, Zouma, Filipe Luis, Torres

Man of the match: Cesc Fabregas

Have Chelsea finally found Claude Makelele’s successor in Nemanja Matic?

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Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Oriol Romeu. Chelsea have tried and failed to find the man to fill Claude Makelele’s boots since his 2008 departure. While the trio have had relative success in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield, none of them have come close to having the influence Makelele did. In Nemanja Matic though, Chelsea may have found the solution.

Claude Makelele arrived at Stamford Bridge in the Summer of 2003 for a fee of £16.8 million after being outcast by Real Madrid as they denied his request of a better contract and continued building their “Galacticos” squad without him. The defining mistake by Florentino Perez and possibly the main reason why Real failed to add to their ninth Champions League win in 2002 where Makelele was a regular.

We will not miss Makélelé. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90% percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélelé to be forgotten.” – Perez (2003)

On arriving in West London, then Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri said of Makelele that he would be “the battery” of the Chelsea side, and right he was too. Thanks to the Frenchman, and Chelsea’s other signings that year in the first season under Roman Abramovich’s era, Chelsea finished Premiership runners up and reached the Champions League semi finals for the first time ever, losing to Monaco who would go on to be beat by Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final.

Mourinho was appointed Chelsea manager the following season of course and under him, Chelsea would transform into the European superpower we know them as today. Makelele blossomed in Mourinho’s style of play, his defensive work, along with a solid back five of Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and William Gallas, meant that Chelsea conceded just 15 goals all season while his passing ability allowed players such as Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Damien Duff and Didier Drogba to attack the opposition at will. “The Makelele role”, as it would be known, was born.

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Every team across the land it seemed was after their very own Claude Makelele. Liverpool signed Javier Mascherano, Arsenal opted for Alex Song, Manchester United acquired Michael Carrick while Tottenham snapped up Didier Zokora. Although three quarters of these signings were no doubt successful (Zokora being the exception), none of them were, or are, as good as Makelele.

The role has been adapted slightly in modern times with the fancy named “Deep Lying Playmaker” or “Regista” role being the latest fashionable term. Well known “DLPs” are Cesc Fabregas, Luka Modric and Jack Wilshere while Sergio Busquets is regarded as an efficient Regista.

Makelele continued to shine in a Chelsea shirt for the next three seasons but his last game was to come, aptly in Chelsea’s first ever Champions League final, the 2008 clash with Manchester United. It would only have been more fitting if Chelsea had won that night in Moscow’s Red City, to give the mercurial Frenchman the greatest of send offs, much like Drogba’s in 2012.

Chelsea’s number four departed West London for Paris Saint Germain where he spent three seasons, won a Coupe de France in 09/10 and retired the following year to become Assistant Manager, which he remains as today.

Nemanja Matic put pen to paper on a four year deal at Chelsea in 2009 for a £1.5 million fee having spent time on trial at Middlesbrough and he was clearly signed as 2006 World Cup runner up Makelele’s long term replacement. Matic made two appearances in his first spell as a Chelsea player before joining feeder club Vitesse Arnhem on loan where he scored twice in 27 games for the Eridivisie club. Having failed to make a mark on the Premier League though he was sold to Benfica in a player plus cash deal worth £21 million plus David Luiz.

Matic announced himself onto the European stage in the Portuguese Capital, scoring six goals in 56 games over the course of three seasons, including one strike against Porto that finished second in the Puskas Award (given to the year’s best goal) of last season, losing out to Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s acrobatic effort against England before rejoining the 2012 Champions League winners for £21 million in January of this year.

Like Makelele, Matic has the ability to break down the play and slow down the midfield to tire the opposition with accurate passing to support his pinpoint tackles, and what’s more intimidating for his rivals is that Matic might even become better than his predecessor. He’s more dynamic than Makelele was and at a younger age too, and more impressively, is a larger threat going forward making him a more versatile player than his French counterpart. Already this season we’ve seen the Serbian crack the woodwork from long range against Manchester City at the Etihad and have a goal disallowed against Aston Villa for a questionable handball. Makelele only scored two goals in a Chelsea shirt, a rebounded Penalty against Charlton (which he originally had saved) and an 18 yard curler against Tottenham, which as great as it was, was his only shot of the entire season.

With Nemanja Matic the latest man being given the job of controlling the Blues’ midfield and so far looking more in control than anyone has in a good while, Chelsea seem to have finally found the man who has filled the Claude Makelele shaped void in the centre of the pitch.