Following a spectacular window full of exciting signings, West Ham’s Declan Rice has emerged as the player who could round off Chelsea’s spending spree.
The midfielder has been heavily linked with a move across London and could well be the final piece of Lampard’s puzzle as he looks to build a squad capable of challenging for silverware once again.
Although Chelsea’s manager is reportedly very keen on the player, large sections of the fan base don’t appear to be so desperate to see him in a blue shirt.
I’m sure many fans will have come away with completely different ideas, but I believe that Chelsea’s last two games have highlighted our need for a disciplined defensive midfielder/no.6 and showed exactly why we need Declan Rice at Chelsea.
In the first half of the Barnsley game, we faced an onslaught of chances and shots at one point because the centre-backs had no protection at all from midfield. That wasn’t necessarily Kovacic or Barkley’s fault because that’s not their role, but it showed that we can’t function well without an out-and-out defensive midfielder.
Then in the West Brom game, we saw that as soon as we lost the ball we became extremely vulnerable defensively because our full-backs were pushing so high up and our midfielders were in advanced positions trying to play out from the back.
We conceded three goals from three individual mistakes but we were lucky not to concede more because this was a constant theme throughout the first half👇Fullbacks pushing up too much & too slow to track back which gave West Brom so much space on transitions to isolate the CBs pic.twitter.com/AJz2BiQ8wc
— Nouman (@nomifooty) September 27, 2020
The obvious answer to that problem is N’golo Kante, because I’m sure we all know that he’s arguably one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. However, we can’t rely on Kante all the time, as we’ve learnt the hard way over the past 18 months or so having watched him suffer from injury after injury.
More importantly though, Kante is not a traditional holding midfielder. He doesn’t like to sit in front of a back four to break up attacks – he prefers to roam around the pitch and into advanced areas making important tackles and interceptions to regain possession. To have Kante in a disciplined no.6 role is a waste of his stamina and immense ability.
As an insider recently told The Athletic when explaining Chelsea’s interest in Rice: “Kante wants to leave areas, he wants to go and win the ball back. I believe Lampard wants a holder to just sit there, to break things up, to be more of a physical presence.”
Gianfranco Zola – in response to criticism for the way that he and Maurizio Sarri deployed the Frenchman in their time at Chelsea – also said: “Kante is not a sitting midfielder.
“Although he has always played in a midfield two, at Leicester and in his first two years at Chelsea, at Leicester he was playing with Drinkwater, who was the sitting one and Kante was moving around. He was free to go sideways, backwards, whatever he wanted.
“And it was the same at Chelsea when Matic was the sitting one and Kante was doing the same job.”
If Chelsea brought in a traditional no.6 like Rice then he could provide some defensive stability so that the centre-backs aren’t isolated on quick breaks. Chilwell and James would have more protection if they want to bomb forward and put crosses into the box, which they’re both great at doing. Kante would also be given more freedom to roam about if he was in a 2-man pivot with Rice, or alternatively Kovacic would have the license to make his trademark forward dribbles through the middle to create chances.
The game against Barnsley certainly highlighted how effective Kai Havertz is in the no.10 role and he’s only set to get better at it, so if we want to play to his strengths then a 4-2-3-1 with Rice plus Kante or Kovacic behind Havertz makes the most sense in terms of getting a defensive balance.
With a particularly busy fixture list looming over Chelsea this season, it’s clear that rotation will be necessary and Rice would allow for plenty more of that too.
Not only would it give Kante a bit more of rest at times, but Kante could also play Rice’s deeper role occasionally when needed with Kovacic beside him. Once he returns from his knee injury, Billy Gilmour could be effective as the more advanced player in the pivot beside Kante or Rice thanks to his dribbling ability, and Mount or even Ross Barkley could fill in there too.
On top of all this, Rice is both a vocal player and a threat from set-pieces. It’s always good to have leaders in the squad, especially now that Willian has left and Jorginho could be on his way out, and having Rice heading balls away in the box would surely treat Chelsea’s defensive set-piece woes.
We, as fans, have often complained about Chelsea’s tendency to sign players that we find suitable rather than players that the manager wants. Antonio Conte made it clear that he wanted the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alex Sandro and Saul Niguez in the 17/18 season, so it’s no surprise that things didn’t go to plan when he was handed Alvaro Morata, Emerson and Danny Drinkwater instead.
If Frank Lampard desperately wants to sign Declan Rice amid mounting concerns about our midfield’s defensive balance, then I think it’s a complete no-brainer and I sincerely hope Chelsea are able to agree a suitable fee for the player in the final week of the window. I think he’s got great ability and has the potential to be Chelsea’s captain in the near future, which would be absolutely great to see.