In Chelsea’s new midfield trio, two out of the three spots are pretty much nailed down. N’Golo Kante and Jorginho will both start most games under Maurizio Sarri this season but there is one midfield place up for grabs. Cesc Fabregas, Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and new signing Mateo Kovacic will all compete for this left side attacking role. Although there have only been three games so far, let’s look at each players’ performances during the minutes that they’ve played.
Ross Barkley struggled under Antonio Conte in the second half of last season to say the least, however, Maurizio Sarri seems to have given him a new lease of life. Barkley started the first two games against Huddersfield and Arsenal impressing with his powerful runs from midfield and attacking threat. During these appearances, Barkley has averaged a passing accuracy of 86% – a stat which will please Sarri as part of his possession-orientated game. The former Everton man also adds a goal threat to the team, having taken three shots in his opening two games. A quick burst into the penalty area against Arsenal followed by a low shot was a bright spark and demonstrates the 24-year-old’s intent on finding the net.
While Barkley’s passing accuracy is impressive at 86%, Kovacic boasts a success of 95% over the course of his two appearances and also gets on the ball more frequently. During Chelsea’s dominant display at St. James’s Park on Sunday, Kovacic managed 116 touches of the ball in 79 minutes, that’s one touch every 41 seconds. If you compare this with Barkley, he managed one touch every 70 seconds in 68 minutes against Huddersfield. Kovacic’s tendency to get more involved in the play may see him preferred to Barkley by Sarri in the long run. The Croatian is also more efficient with the ball in terms of creating chances for others. His three key passes against Huddersfield trump Barkley’s tally of just one in his three appearances this season.
After his impressive performances for Crystal Palace and England over the last 12 months, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been retained by Maurizio Sarri this season. Despite the Chelsea Academy product’s lack of playing time so far this season, his manager has promised to give him a chance in the first team before reviewing his situation in January. Loftus-Cheek came back for pre-season far earlier than the rest of Chelsea’s players that featured in the latter stages of the World Cup in order to prove himself to his new boss and, with a bit more patience, his hard work might just pay off. Loftus-Cheek replaced Barkley on the opening day of Chelsea’s season at Huddersfield and managed to complete all of his attempted passes. Loftus-Cheek’s more physical and defensive attributes offer a different option to Sarri when it comes to holding onto a lead or point.
Last but not least, Cesc Fabregas offers the same passing attributes as Mateo Kovacic but lacks that physicality and stamina needed to have a real impact in a Maurizio Sarri midfield. However, Fabregas possesses outstanding vision that the other three contenders can only dream of and has experience of important Premier League clashes. He’s won World Cups, European Championships, league titles and domestic cups so his leadership and winning mentality is key in that Chelsea dressing room and is always an asset when he is on the pitch. The Spaniard has missed the opening games of this season with an injury but will surely be competing for this final midfield place in the coming weeks and months of the season.