TalkSport have been all over the 'news' that Florent Malouda is going to be shown the Stamford Bridge door by new manager Andre Villas-Boas. On the face of things, it would appear to make some sense, mainly because Malouda's form dipped catastrophically just in time for Chelsea's late autumn collapse and it never really recovered. He's on the wrong side of thirty, had a relatively poor season and is making a lot of money - it's not hard to see why people would anticipate him moving on (Liverpool were given as a potential destination, for what it's worth, presumably as a cheaper alternative to Stewart Downing).
However, it's massively, massively unclear who'd play at left forward should Malouda go. Yuri Zhirkov has been fit for about twelve minutes since he joined Chelsea from CSKA Moscow, and he's the only other natural left-sided wide player on the team who isn't also primarily a full back... oh wait he is a full back. Huh. Could Nicolas Anelka fit? Maybe, and there's a reasonable argument to be made that his style suits the left side better, but it's still not the best option in the world.
And then, unless I'm missing something major, there's not a lot. Gael Kakuta needs playing time of the non-Chelsea variety in order to learn not to run straight into everyone, and nobody on the reserves (with all due respect to Milan Lalkovic) is even close to ready. This is a problem we already encountered when Steve did his roster analysis on the left wing earlier in the year - Chelsea simply don't have any depth there.
Simply put, I don't see a way Chelsea sell Malouda without having an adequate replacement lined up. Shall we go through a list of names we've been linked with?
- Neymar. The superstar soluation. Neymar's an excellent player with the ability to turn into one of the game's all-time greats. Unfortunately he's also childish, volatile and has stupid hair. Oh, and he's pricy, too. At £40M one wouldn't fault the Blues at all if them pass on him - there's just a huge risk that he never pans out as expected. Real Madrid sound like they're frontrunners, and at that price, they can have him
Fabio Coentrao. On the face of things, this might make some sense. Chelsea would acquire one of the top left back prospects in the world who's also more than capable of playing in the attack while Ashley Cole is still alive, slotting neatly into a potential Malouda-shaped hole. He's been mentioned (by name) by Andre Villas-Boas, so he's got that going for him too.
On the other hand, anyone suggesting Coentrao as a legitimate forward probably hasn't seen him try to play there very much. He's a competent player, certainly, but he's so dangerous going forward because he's a left back and can make attacking runs from very deep. His initial position makes him much harder for the defence to pick up and thus far more of a threat, and that's an advantage he'd lose were he to start at left wing. It's sort of like the idea of starting David Luiz as a full back. It might sound nice in theory, but in practice it's more than a little bit embarrassing.
- Arda Turan. Cheaper than the other two, and is a proper left forward. His name has been brought up as part of a potential Didier Drogba swap deal, but there's almost certainly a scenario in which he can be pried out of Galatasaray with good old money. He's valued at around £18M, and would give the Blues a Malouda-style winger except seven years younger and without a bum ankle. He's direct, pacy, and can shoot. I'd need to see him more to say one way or the other, but he sounds very interesting.
Anyway, it simply doesn't make sense for Malouda to be out before one of the above or the equivalent is brought in. Otherwise, we're left with a really worrying lack of depth at left forward, and in turn that would boost any price we'd have to pay to fill the hole. If Malouda is leaving the Bridge (and my uneducated guess is that he probably will move on this summer, just not very quickly), there has to be a corresponding intake first.