In the last few weeks we've been linked heavily to Neymar, the super talented Brazilian who operates mainly on the left wing. This has led to many fans questioning whether or not Gael Kakuta still factors into the teams long term plans, as his primary position appears to be as a left wing as well. I'm of the opinion that signing Neymar would be a brilliant move for the club, and I firmly believe that it would also be in the best interest of Kakuta long term.
Traditionally, the left wing in a 4-3-3 is a speedy player who is better with their left foot than their right. They use their speed to penetrate down the flank, draw the defense wide, and send the ball in to a traditional target man or a penetrating midfielder. They'd primarily play on the side of their stronger foot, as their primary responsibilities were to create chances rather than score goals. Guys like Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, and Jesus Navas really fit the mold of the traditional winger, even if Bale and Lennon play primarily in a deeper role. This type of attack is becoming increasingly less used as defenses are able to cope with the limited number of targets in the box, leading to the teams playing more of a hybrid winger/striker on the wing and getting crosses from the overlapping fullback.
Chelsea appear better built to use the more modern attacker on their left flank. With Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov along with youngsters like Patrick Van Aanholt, Ryan Bertrand, Ben Gordon, and Aziz Deen-Conteh coming through the ranks, it appears there will be no shortage of attack minded fullbacks to provide service into the box. Largely due to this, I really feel that Chelsea would be better served by playing a less traditional winger on the left hand side and allowing that player to act as more of a supporting striker. This player would ideally be good with the ball in tight spaces, and instead of focusing on crossing he'd be capable of playing nifty short passes and a threat to shoot. The club's management seems to feel this way as well, as we've been linked heavily to wingers like Neymar, De Bruyne, Sanchez, and Hazard that are far from the traditional winger.
On first glance, Gael Kakuta would seem to be an ideal fit for this role. He's got nifty ball skills and an eye for goal, and probably is not the guy we want to use punching in cross after cross. He's far better with his left foot than his right though, which in my opinion makes him a less appealing player in this role from our left side. Looking at De Bruyne and Neymar, two guys who I feel would be perfect in this role, both of them like to cut back and create shots for themselves on their preferred right foot. This makes them far more dangerous cutting in from the left flank as they have better angles to work with. This reduces their effectiveness somewhat as a traditional crossing wing, but that is mostly erased by the overlapping fullback.
Kakuta in my opinion would benefit from a move to the right flank as he's far better cutting in from the right and shooting with his left foot, or to a more withdrawn role where he's allowed to move freely from side to side. Kakuta's two most impressive games for Chelsea have likely been in the Champions league vs APOEL and Zilina, so I decided to go back and get a closer look at both of them. Here's a nice little compilation of his touches from the Zilina game this year:
As you can see, Kakuta very rarely operated as a traditional wing in this contest. He looked dangerous both centrally and attacking from the right flank, and really was the best player on the pitch in that match for large portions of the action. He was exceptional in the APOEL match as well, as Carlo notes in his post game comments (which can be found here). Unfortunately I couldn't find a highlight package from this game focused on Kakuta, but you can find a brief reel from the game here. It's also worth noting that much like the Zilina game, Kakuta was stationed on the right and allowed to drift into the attack from that flank.
Next let's take a look at Kakuta at last summer's European U19 championships where he was named the best player in the tournament:
Kakuta seems to be playing in more of a midfield role for France, and he was exceptional in this role. By playing in a witdrawn role, he was able to make better use of his dribbling ability and put himself in a position to shoot with his left foot. As you can see, he drifted to all sorts of different areas of the pitch to spring his attacks, and was generally moving from right to left when shooting. Now let's take a look at some highlights from the youth and reserve ranks:
Once again it appears that Kakuta is a more dangerous player from the right hand side or central midfield than he is from the left flank. You don't get to see his passing much here, but all of his shots seem to be from his left foot. He's clearly got some scoring ability, and we're wasting it trying to force him into a role on the left hand side of the front three. In my opinion it shouldn't come as any sort of surprise that Kakuta has looked less impressive this season than last, as I really feel he's being played in a position that neutralizes many of his talents.
Signing Neymar would effectively lock up the long term plans for the Chelsea left wing, as he'd be an expensive enough signing that he'd certainly be given plenty of opportunity to shine there. Given that, Neymar would likely force Chelsea to move Kakuta to another position on the pitch, at which point I believe they'd really begin to get a maximum return on their investment in both players. Regardless of what happens with Neymar, however, I really hope the club gives Kakuta an opportunity to play somewhere other than the left flank in the future as I really think he'll be better off for it.