It is in times of fixture congestion that a manager starts wishing he had greater armor at his disposal. Pardon me if you disagree, but I believe Rafael Benitez has really had his work cut out over the past fortnight.
It all started with the game at Southampton on March 30th, and one would have expected the Blues to buckle under the sheer pressure of a demanding fixture list, especially going by the lethargic performance turned in versus the Saints.
The West Londoners lost 2-1 on the day, and with the FA Cup replay with Manchester United looming, Rafa was to be compelled to play several crucial first-teamers twice in the span of 48 hours.
Chelsea eventually came out on top against the Red Devils to book a semifinal date with Manchester City. But there wasn't going to be time for a breather. Benitez had the unenviable task of picking a fresh starting lineup for the Europa League quarterfinal first leg against Rubin Kazan for Thursday. Not to forget, Sunderland were due to visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday too.
In the end, Chelsea came out of their four-games-in-nine-days blitz having fared really well, winning thrice. But with the business end of the season here, a manager ideally doesn't want to find himself in the kind of selection tight-spot Benitez was in.
Chelsea are plagued with depth problems largely of their own creation, with up to 25 players out on loan. The problem is further underscored when one realizes that there are a fair few individuals thriving on temporary spells at other clubs. Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Josh McEachran, Tomas Kalas and Nathaniel Chalobah have all made statements of intent with exhilarating performances away from the club this term.
One key area Chelsea must've presumed they had covered at the start of the season would be attacking midfield. With 4-2-3-1 having been the first-choice formation through the season, Chelsea haven't been short on numbers here, with Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Oscar, Marko Marin and Yossi Benayoun competing for these slots. But perhaps it is quality, not quantity, that is worth it's weight in gold.
Benayoun looks nothing like the player he once was, Marko Marin's Chelsea career doesn't look like it's really going to take off anytime soon, while Oscar and Moses have both had problems delivering on a regular basis.
With diminutive duo Mata and Hazard being virtually automatic selections for the biggest of the club's games, there is essentially one slot that is available. But in a situation like the present one, where the Blues have barely had a week off since Rafa stepped in as interim first team coach, the irrepressible-when-on-song pair too need a rest once in a while.
One feels holding onto Kevin De Bruyne might have been the perfect win-win situation for player and club.
The Belgian, another chap out on loan, has been in imperious form for Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, chalking up 6 goals and 8 assists in 28 appearances. He recently expressed concern about his future at Chelsea.
Such has been the policy of the club in the past that they'd rather use young players as makeweight for better-known talents, than give them a run in the first team. Do any of you remember Nemanja Matic? Yep, that Serbian bloke sacrificed to finance a deal for David Luiz back in 2011. He's now a regular for Portuguese heavyweights Benfica, and on the radar of Man United.
Indeed, rumor has it that Chelsea intend to offer Kevin de Bruyne in a player-plus-cash deal for Andre Schurrle. To be brutually honest, Schurrle, a long-term transfer target for the West Londoners, wouldn't exactly represent an upgrade on the talent the Blues presently possess in his position. He is generally deployed as a second striker or winger in Sami Hyypiä's Bayer Leverkusen.
And if the club is looking to rope in Schurrle so that he can play as center-forward, then some people at Chelsea have serious misconceptions. There are more prolific marksmen out there in the market; players representing better value-for-money, such as Robert Lewandowski. And then there's Romelu Lukaku, who's almost certain to return to his parent club in the summer.
Besides, if the deal involves KDB, then the Blues will lose a player with arguably greater potential than the 23-year-old German they are chasing so relentlessly.
De Bruyne has it in him to be a future starter, and had he been at the club right now, he might actually have been taking the pitch more often than anticipated. He does, after all, have the skill set needed to play alongside Mata and Hazard: the pace, close-control, dribbling ability and speed of thought.
For the sake of squad depth, and of course the quality he brings to the plate, Chelsea must not let go of KDB.
His agent recently spoke of the club's plans for De Bruyne next season. Notice the last sentence. There's a hint of frustration with the club's top brass for lack of managerial stability at Chelsea. Indeed, in the absence of a manager with job security and a long-term vision, the good work of youth scouts is rendered useless time and again. One can only pray that De Bruyne doesn't end up becoming another world-beater who got away.
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