Marko Marin is... well, he isn't really a polarising figure. Most people, I suspect, are Marin-neutral, since the little German has barely seen the pitch for the club. But there are a vocal minority of people who absolutely adore him. During a poll we ran here last summer after the Oscar signing, a sizable chunk of readers voted for the former Werder Bremen man as the newcomer they were most excited about, despite the additions of Oscar and Eden Hazard to the fold.
Marin impressed in the early stages of preseason, then hurt himself -- not a surprise, considering his notorious fragility -- and failed to feature again until receiving 20 minutes during the 6-0 rout of Wolverhampton in the League Cup. In the interim, Hazard had started life at Chelsea with a flourish, Oscar had shown what he could do by notching a brace against Juventus and completely shutting down Andrea Pirlo and a rested Juan Mata had sprung back to the top of his game.
There was never an obvious route to the starting spot for Marin, and his chances to make a surprise bid for the regular starter spot vanished with his hamstring problem. Oscar, Mata and Hazard settled in as the first-choice players for the third band in Chelsea's 4-2-3-1, and Victor Moses' good form and key goals have seen him installed as Roberto di Matteo's go to substitute.
For Marin, it wasn't supposed to be like this. In May this year, Chelsea's future didn't look particularly rosy. They'd just beaten Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals -- a historic, legendary victory to be sure -- but their Premier League form was such that a place in the competition for the next season could only be achieved by dispatching Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the final. The odds were not especially good.
And so Chelsea had to plan for two worlds. In the first, which we're rather happily more familiar with, the Blues would be the Champions of Europe, flush with cash and a reputation as one of the continent's top sides. In the second, we're a Europa League side, a wounded giant looking to regain its strength.
Marko Marin is, in truth, a creature from that parallel dimension. Without Didier Drogba's header and Petr Cech's heroics, we're a team suddenly bereft of Eden Hazard and Oscar. Juan Mata continues to shoulder the team's creative burden in the centre. But on his left is a elfin German from the Borussia Monchengladbach academy by way of Werder Bremen.
Without knowing what the budget would be for the upcoming season, the front office was forced into making a relatively cheap purchase that they knew they might not need. It's not fair to Marin to say that he wasn't a real target, because he's certainly a Chelsea-calibre player, but the fact of the matter is that the Champions League win made his €8 million acquisition something of a secondary move. With Eden Hazard and then Oscar added to the squad before the end of July, Marin suddenly found himself relegated from a sure starting role into a real battle for playing time.
Too much is made of his pre-season form against some relatively weak defences. While he undeniably played well compared to Hazard, it's difficult to take much from friendly matches when both sides are frequently indifferent as to the results. Remember Chelsea losing to Brighton? That was a thing that happened and folks took way too seriously. Marin shredding the Seattle Sounders defence was nice and all, but it's simply not enough for him to be worthy of a regular spot in the team.
But not being worthy of a regular spot doesn't mean that Marin shouldn't be used at all, and that's the situation we're looking at. The only time that the 23-year-old has seen for Chelsea have either come in a League Cup rout of a Championship side and a pair of reserve appearances. Even the out-of-favour Oriol Romeu has seen more time.
Some of that is because of the squad's depth in the attacking midfield position that Marin favours. But just because there are talented players ahead of him doesn't mean that he's useless. Roberto di Matteo should consider the opposition as a set of problem to break down, and Marin gives him a tool that the other four don't.
No, I'm not talking about width -- the idea that Chelsea lack width in the attack is ridiculous, and an inverted left winger wouldn't help with that anyway. What Marin brings to the table is ridiculous dribbling ability in close quarters, even more so than the likes of Hazard and Oscar. And that's a particularly useful have as teams start to clog the passing lanes when facing the thee Mazcateers. If Chelsea go into hyper-attacking mode, having the ability to beat players one-on-one is crucial.
And when this team clicks (it hasn't just yet), we're going to see sides retreat into a defensive shell against us far more often. That's when we'll really need Marin. But unless he gets some serious time now, he's not going to be any good to us when the time comes to use him properly. Despite the fact that he's not at the same level as Mata, Hazard and Oscar, he's a competent backup who can be used to rest any of them in 'normal' games without a severe loss of production, and di Matteo should be giving him more playing time to find his feet.
I'm not a huge Marin fan -- I don't think he's lived up to the early potential he showed alongside Mesut Ozil in the 2009/10 season -- but he's clearly a good player and I think it's also clear that we're going to run the first-choice attacking trifecta into the ground if we keep playing them this often. If he was fit enough to play 90 minutes for the under-21s on Monday, he was fit enough to come in off the bench against Liverpool.
Marin isn't Chelsea's best player or anything close to it, but there's no point in wasting his talents. He can help the side by filling in for the stars from time to time, and there may come a point where we actually need to use him for what he does better than anyone else at the club. He's good enough to be a backup and a situational starter, and that entails giving him some actual time on the pitch.
Roberto di Matteo has Marin at his disposal, and it's probably time to start making proper use of him.