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Keep an eye on what's happening in midfield

Stanley Chou

Things look pretty hunky-dory heading into the new season. Jose Mourinho's back in town, we've got a young, talented squad that looks like it'll get better with time rather than fall apart, we're about to get a huge chunk of money through the new Premier League TV deal and nobody else in the league is looking like a world-beater. Small wonder that Chelsea fans seem so optimistic heading into the season.

But there's one aspect of the club which still doesn't look quite right. And it's been a problem for years. The midfield looks under-strength in terms of personnel, and so far in friendlies the double pivot has been fairly unimpressive no matter who's playing in it.

Yes, they've been fairly tidy in possession, but tidiness only gets you so far, and reviewing the matches shows how little the two central midfielders have been doing other than sitting in front of the defence and breaking up play. All of Chelsea's passing moves have flowed around, rather than through, the players who are supposed to be dictating the game.

Instead, the fullbacks have had to push up and the attacking midfielders drop deeper in order for the ball to be moved around. The pivot players haven't really been doing much of anything* -- in the match against the Singha All-Stars 'box-to-box' midfielder Marco van Ginkel didn't even enter the final third of the pitch -- and the only exception is a guy who's about to go out on loan.

*The absence of Frank Lampard won't have helped.

This isn't something to freak out about just yet. It could be that Mourinho's trying to build up a solid defensive base before taking his guys off the leash, and that's perfectly reasonable. And we definitely shouldn't be trying to analyse friendlies too hard. They're not real games and we shouldn't treat them like they are. But the performances of the midfield are still a major point of interest, and they're something to pay attention to as we get closer to the season kicking off.

I'm hoping we see far more assertive play out of the likes of van Ginkel and Michael Essien, both of whom are far more dynamic than they've shown to date on this tour. Although we're missing a capable central midfielder in Mikel, he's hardly going to be the player who successfully stitches together the side next season, so the others are going to have to step up. Fortunately, we know it's in them to do so, and I'd fully expect rapid improvement as we get to the more serious parts of the pre-season.

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