Since we seem fairly likely to be linked heavily to several central midfielders tomorrow (or later today depending on where you're at), we'll take a look at one that Andre Villas-Boas is certainly familiar with this time. Joao Moutinho was a purchase of AVB's last summer while he was at Porto after spending the previous 5 years at Sporting Lisbon. He's been a regular member of the Portugese national team alongside fellow Chelsea target Raul Meireles since 2006. He's going to turn 25 in about a week's time, so he'd likely be a purchase for a single contract (or maybe one with a shorter extension) here at Chelsea. He's got a buyout in his contract which is set at £35 million, so there is a definite ceiling on how high we'd have to bid for his services. I'd guess the chances we offer that are close enough to zero percent that it's not even worth mentioning as an option though.
Moutinho is a fairly unique player. He's not only competent, but very good in a number of areas in the midfield. He's been utilized in the holding role, as a box to box mid, as the point of a diamond, as a traditional #10, on both wings of a 4-3-3, and as an outside midfielder on both sides of a 4-4-2. His versatility is almost certainly his best quality, as when he's on the pitch he makes it fairly easy for the manager to alter his tactic without making a substitution.
Standing 5'7" tall, Moutinho is on the smallish side for a Premier League player. He's got decent pace, excellent acceleration and change of direction, and pretty good natural balance. His aerial challenges are probably roughly the equivalent of being bitten by a mosquito, so he'll never be much of a factor there. His best physical characteristic is probably his stamina. The guy just has a Ramires like work rate, something that will certainly help with the high pressure defensive system AVB likes to utilize.
Technically Moutinho is quite solid. He's got a very nice first touch and is above average with the ball at his feet. His passing is very good, and he's also known for being quite solid with both corners and crosses. I'd assume this would also translate to some ability with certain set pieces, but he was never Porto's primary set piece taker. He's not a bad finisher, but he doesn't venture into the box all that often. Most of his goals come when he gets between the defense and midfield and is not closed down properly. He tends to be very composed in possesion, and is pretty good at launching the attack from different areas of the pitch. He's also a generally reliable defender, even if he's not an overly physical one.
His multi-faceted skillset combined with his work rate make for some very interesting options with Moutinho. He was often asked to fill several very different roles during the same match as was illustrated with this tactical analysis of the Benfica/Porto game from last season. While this was beneficial in most ways, it can occasionally leave openings for a team that counters quickly. Moutinho tends to identify those areas quickly and get back in position using his unreal conditioning, but a solid defensively aware holder would not be the worst thing to have in a lineup best suited to Moutinho's unique abilities. Luckily for us, we have got one of those and a very promising looking youngster to back him up in the same mold.
I've got a pair of Moutinho videos to share with you today. The first is your run of the mill youtube highlight reel, but it's got a few nice examples of what Moutinho is capable of:
The second is all of his touches in a game against Denmark. The thing to really note here is just how many positions on the pitch Moutinho tends to get himself in:
I'm a pretty big fan of Moutinho, and if we're going to overpay for a central midfielder I think Moutinho is as good a candidate as any. He's probably not quite as accomplished at springing attacks as fellow targets Luka Modric or Raul Meireles, but he's the most active and the most versatile of the three. I like his long term fit more than the others, as he's quite capable of filling so many roles that he'd never really be blocking anyone. He'd be a valuable guy to have around any team as he could simply fill in for about half of the players on the pitch without much (if any) dropoff. That's not to say he couldn't start here, because he's certainly talented and developed enough to be in that discussion.
Of the three, I get the feeling Moutinho is probably the least likely to end up a Chelsea player tomorrow. Dealings with Porto don't tend to go the quickest, and we really don't seem to have laid too much groundwork for this deal already this window (or if we have it's been unusually quiet). I also don't think they're all that likely to continue to sell their top players this summer. Falcao has already left, and Pereira is rumored to be heading here as well. They really need to keep some players if they want to make a good showing in the CL and try to retain their domestic title. They are also probably in pretty good shape for cash after those two deals. It wouldn't surprise me if this ends up being a January target if we fail to add a central midfielder tomorrow, much like the summer flirtation turned (awesome) January signing of David Luiz. Still, if Porto are willing to sell for less than Moutinho's buyout clause this could be a very nice transfer target indeed. Feel free to discuss away in the comments section below...