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Potential Chelsea transfer target: Baba Rahman

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With Chelsea rumored to be wrapping up the sale of Filipe Luis pretty soon, the club will be adding a new left back before the Premier League season gets underway. The only name we've seen reliably linked thus far is that of FC Augburg's Baba Rahman, one of the brightest defensive prospects in Europe. Prior to the 2014/15 season, most probably hadn't even heard of Rahman, however, and given that the defender isn't playing for one of Europe's elite, it's unlikely that many have seen much of the player in action, aside from the occasional highlights.

So who is Baba Rahman? The Ghanaian defender turned 21 in the beginning of July, is capable of playing either right or left back, and reportedly doesn't have a foot in which he's noticeably stronger. That could be at least in part due to the raw nature of his game, which took major strides this past season (when he played on the left), his first at a decent Bundesliga side.

Before joining FC Augsburg last summer, Baba spent two seasons in one of Germany's smaller sides, Gruether Furth. He was a part time player in each of those campaigns, showing enough potential (in flashes) to earn him a transfer to Augsburg.

Last season saw Augsburg take a big jump as a club, finishing fifth in Germany, ahead of perennial Champions League participants Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. Rahman's development was a large part of that success, and some of the trends we can find by looking at WhoScored's page for Augsburg really highlight just how important Rahman was:

I generally don't put much faith in statistical analysis of football, as there's not a site out there (including WhoScored) who have figured out a way to turn their raw data into semi-useful analysis. There are little bits that can be taken from the very basic numbers that we do have, however, and Augsburg's trends of attacking down the left (over 50% of their attacks), and frequent crosses tell us that Rahman was heavily involved in the attack.

It's not hard to understand why Augsburg would frequently attack down the left hand side, as Rahman has all the physical tools you'd look for in a world class fullback. He's got exceptional pace, good balance and agility, and has the sort of quick feet you'd expect to see in a tricky wide player. It's no surprise, then, that he's got some ability with the ball at his feet, and generally looks to be quite efficient at taking the ball off of an attacker without leaving his feet to do so.

As is often the case with young players with elite physical tools, Baba can be prone to making poor decisions, and is often a bit slow in his reading of the game. In this case, he actually reminds me a lot of Kurt Zouma, who often relies heavily on his impressive physical tools to cover for his inexperience. Stats fans will point to Baba's impressive tackle and interception numbers and claim that this perception is somewhat overblown, but in the (admittedly limited) matches of his that I've seen, I'd argue that his inexperience is largely responsible for these impressive numbers. If Rahman can attempt a challenge, he always seems to try it, and while this leads to some impressive raw numbers, it doesn't indicate just how many times he leaves his teammates exposed when opponents take advantage of that aggressive play. A certain Arsenal midfielder springs to mind in this regard, though that particular player is lacking the elite physical tools that Baba has, and plays in a position where being caught out of position is far more likely to result in conceding.

His inexperience tends to show up when Rahman has the ball, as well, as his passing accuracy often leaves much to be desired. The speed at which Baba reads the game was very obvious here, and the fullback seemed to telegraph his passes far too often from what I saw of him this season, and he's also very, very aggressive with some of his attempts. Thankfully, like his defensive positioning and aggressiveness, that's something that should improve quickly as he gains valuable first team minutes.

Rahman is obviously less polished than Luis, but given that the Brazilian barely featured after his transfer from Atletico Madrid, that shouldn't be much of an issue as Chelsea attempt to repeat as champions. Baba will be a serviceable backup who brings more flexibility from the minute he arrives, and has best fullback in the world sort of potential if everything goes perfectly. Even if that never happens, which is likely, there's still little reason to think the Ghanaian won't be a very good player for a very long time. He'd be an excellent addition for Chelsea, both as a short-term backup, and a potential replacement for Branislav Ivanovic down the road.

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