Let's get greedy and talk about another midfielder that I would like to see Chelsea pursue to further strengthen their midfield: Milan Badelj.
*WARNING: This is going to be really lengthy, but this my best attempt at writing a decent scouting report about a player that I have been following pretty closely for almost 2 years.
Well, I think it's no secret I'm a big fan of a certain 24 year old Croatian playing in the Bundesliga named Milan Badelj. I already mentioned in the past what I liked about him and a user Daniele Di Ross did an excellent job of compiling my comments/mini-scouting report in this fanpost. If you don't feel like reading the fanpost, here's a quick summary of the numbers that Milan Badelj posted last season in comparison with everyone's favorite midfielder from BVB (Gundogan) that Daniele Di Ross posted:
Milan played more Bundesliga games (30/26) but still on average per game , made more tackles (3.7/2.3) , more interceptions (3.5/2.3) .In terms of creation he made more key passes (1/.07). He makes a similar no of passes (58.1/58.6) but has a lower passing accuracy (81.5%/86.2%)
So statistically, Milan Badelj was the slightly better player than Ilkay Gundogan last season. Am I saying one is better than other? No, what I was trying to point out that based on Badelj's rookie season in the Bundesliga, we may have the making of another great midfielder in the Bundesliga. However, we are all aware of one-hit wonders and the dangers of falling in love at first sight. Was Badelj performance in the Bundesliga last year merely a flash in the pan or was that the birth of another maestro in the midfield? Well, here's my sophomore season scouting report complete with videos and one .gif.
Was last year just a flash in the pan?
As of January 14, 2014, the answer is no. If anything, he's currently on track (via whoscored.com) for a slightly better offensive statistical finish compared to last year. Milan Badelj, IMO, is currently one of the best, if not the best, passer in Bundesliga. His passer success rating is pretty much spot on where he was last year (81.2%) and he already has two assists to his name (he had 5 last season, so he's almost halfway to matching his production from last year). He already matched his goal production with an absolute stunner of a volley that demonstrated two of his best attributes: 1) his technique and 2) his great positional awareness. Note that he was actually running back to the ball and there was defender right in his face which makes timing this volley much more difficult.
While his average number of passes have decreased, that can be attributed to HSV having pretty terrible run of form where the whole club was thrown out of funk and they could not get anything going. However, recently things started clicking again and the club starting to display the talent they have at their disposal and this is allowing Badelj to start operating more freely instead of being more concerned about his defensive responsibilities which raises my next point.
Did he improve at all or is he still the same old player from last season?
Here's a scary thought: last season in roughly 20 appearances Badelj had around 50 tackles. That's a lot for someone who is supposed to be a midfielder. This season at 16 appearances he has a mere 61 tackles and 40 interceptions. He somehow, as a midfielder, increased his defensive production. Now these numbers are a bit skewed by the fact that HSV has been pretty poor this season and are struggling to live up to their potential, thus Badelj has been needed to do a lot of cleaning up on the defensive end, but those numbers are still impressive. Also, if you were to watch him play this year it appears he adopted a role that can be comparable to Makelele's destroyer role. Whether he did this by choice or it was per Bert van Marwijk's (new HSV manager) instruction, he has done an amazing job of embracing the role. At first glance, he doesn't look like the physical type of player nor does he have the body to be a defensive presence, but that is where he surprises you. He is surprisingly strong and his balance is incredibly solid; he demonstrated multiple times this year that he's deceivingly tough to tackle. Another thing that makes him a great defender is what appears to be a very high football IQ. When you watch him defending, he positions himself very favorably to make a defensive play and not only make a defensive play but also initiate an offensive play. You have to remember that originally Badelj was brought on to be a deep-lying playmaker but now can you imagine what would happen if Makelele and Modric fused together? Badelj is giving us teaser of what that could look like and it's pretty spectacular and the video below just highlights his defensive presence that can often be under appreciated from a midfielder.
Milan Badelj | Defensive Midfielder 2013/2014 | ᴴᴰ (via 1887VDV23i)
There is one instance that I would like to highlight in the above video at the 2:10 mark. Badelj intercepts the ball out of the air and then sends a near-perfect long ball via a volley through the air to his wing player sprinting down the flanks. If you didn't clock it, Badelj sprung a counter-attack in less than 2 seconds in one of the most unorthodox ways. How he saw that unfolding and was able to deliver that pass is beyond me.
Does this guy have any weaknesses at all? He sounds almost too good to be true.
The quick answer to the above question is Badelj occasionally demonstrates on the pitch that he's human. He has the occasional moments where he tries to do a little too much and gives up the ball in an inopportune spot, but these moments occur pretty rarely. Another thing about Badelj is that he's not the fastest guy on the pitch and faster players can burn him but for the most part he does a good job of positioning himself to mask this weakness when defending but if Ronaldo or Messi was running straight at him and he's by himself, he's in trouble. Badelj can be suppressed if his opponents employ a high-pressing game that won't allow HSV to play out of the back and encourages a more direct style of football. However, Badelj has shown this year that he can find a way to still get involved but it might just take him a tad bit longer. The other area that still plagues him this season that was an issue last season is that his greatest strength, his insane field vision and incredible football IQ, can also be his biggest weakness. Badelj can be prone to giving the ball away (but never in a compromising position) or passing to his teammates when they weren't aware of what he is planning. I mentioned back in the summer that Badelj is very much like a chess player and plays football like a game of chess; he always has one move planned ahead and if that doesn't work, he has plan B and C already lined up. When you watch HSV and just focus on Badelj, you get the feeling that he is an incredibly meticulous player and everything he does is very calculated. The issue with that is his teammates may not always see what he sees or they don't understand what he trying to do when does certain runs or dribbles. I mentioned in the Daniele Di Ross' fanpost that Badelj will spot an incredibly narrow window and somehow get the ball through but his teammates were completely unaware that window existed in the first place. Those moments of disconnect have decreased since Badelj was able to spend a full off-season training with his teammate but those moments still occur at least once a game. Thus, Badelj falls into the category of players who need at least a season to get fully acclimated to his club, but also a season is needed from his new teammates to get used to him.
So why should Chelsea target him? Chelsea has Mikel, Ramires, Lampard, and now Matic manning the midfield. I think we have a lot of midfielders now.
And here's my response to you: you can never have too much talent in the squad. Personally, I believe Badelj would be a fine fit for this Chelsea squad as he has the vision and the passing abilities needed to release our trio of attackers on opposing defenses. Not only that, my earlier description of him embracing his defensive duties is trait that I'm sure Mourinho would love to have in the squad as he has been tremendous for HSV terrible's defense this year. Also, Badelj is the kind of player that Chelsea will benefit from having the most when teams decides to bunker down and pack the box as he excels in breaking down defenses and passing the ball around to produce chances, yet he can also become a human metronome that can control the pace of the match when he is allowed to. I predict that Milan Badelj will be one of the players who ages very well because he doesn't rely on his physical attributes or quick feet, instead his bread and butter is his vision and technique, therefore he can be a serviceable player for a long time.
Okay, I'm sold. How much do we need to get him and will he even be available?
HSV is currently in a tough spot. On paper, they can be a very talented club but for some reason their defense this year has failed to show up but on the flip side, their offensive talent is shining and they are scoring goals as well. Unfortunately, Badelj is one of the big contributors to that offensive production so Chelsea is going to need to field a very tempting offer for one of HSV best players. However, HSV management is kind of in a funk right now and with a new manager at the helms it might be possible to persuade them to give up Milan Badelj to Chelsea despite it being his second year on the squad. If Chelsea were to show any interest in the player, now would be the time to show it as he is starting to pop up on everyone's radar in the Bundesliga.
Also, Badelj just had one of those "Hey, everyone look at me- I can be pretty freaking good. Here's a little teaser of my ability" games against Hannover last month where he was involved in all three goals scored and pretty much dictated that match. I want to point out an instance in this video at the 2:24 mark where he demonstrates his ability to spot a narrow window and attack it. Again, how he saw that window in a moment like that in that kind of situation and send a ball with that kind of precision is beyond me.
Milan Badelj vs Hannover 96 | HD (via MBCompilations)