Chelsea received a setback recently with the news that Michael Essien is likely to face up to six months on the sidelines with another knee injury, with rehabilitation from an operation in full swing. With the latest ailment the third of it’s kind during the Ghanian’s tenure at Stamford Bridge, it may well be wise for Andre Villas Boas to formulate a long-term midfield plan without the 28-year-old in his thoughts.
No doubt, when Essien is fit and raring to go he is one of the most dynamic and explosive players in his position in the country. Despite this, long layoffs and a drop in confidence and form mean that the ex-Lyon midfielder has a lot of work to do to rediscover his former self.
The Portuguese manager has stated that The Blues will play 4-3-3 in 2011-12, with a trio of Frank Lampard, Ramires and Essien most likely in mind. With the African not available, Jon Obi Mikel may step in and play in the middle, but what are the other options without Essien in the team?
Much has been made of the lack of activity in the transfer window to date, but it is likely that the Chelsea faithful will see arrivals to the club before August 31st. The high profile pursuit of Luka Modric has yet to reach a conclusion, whilst AVB is thought to be keen to add Porto’s Joao Moutinho to the squad. Both, as good players as they are, are more attacking minded and would complement a midfield with Lampard and Essien, with the new man being the playmaker. Without the Accra born man, a box-to-box player is needed; someone who can win the ball as well as distribute it.
Enter Josh McEachran. The 18-year-old impressed in his fleeting first team appearances in 2010-11, and the Young Player of the Year is likely to feature in more than the nine games he appeared in last term. The England under-21 international has great vision and passing abilities, maybe not yet up to the standard of Modric or Moutinho, but the promise is there.
Ideally the Oxford born man would prefer to play in a more attacking role, looking to supply the forwards and get into the opposition box. However Carlo Ancelotti seemed to use the youngster as a replacement for Essien or Mikel last season, and he looked more than comfortable in a deeper role. With enthusiasm and energy to burn, McEacran will not be scared to go toe-to-toe with opponents on a weekly basis, and although still maturing, can read the game well, allowing him to break up opposition play.
Chelsea do need another established central midfielder at the club, and it is likely that Roman Abramovich’s money will be spent to achieve this. However expect to see Josh McEachran playing a more important role in the team in 2011-12, as his talents continue to blossom at the Cobham training grounds.