English Premier League: 8 starts + 9 substitute appearances (753 minutes)
Eredivisie: 13 (1170 minutes)
UEFA Champions League: 2 (211 minutes)
Domestic Cups: 4 (337 minutes)
We're a few months short of the day Marco van Ginkel injured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament in a League Cup game against Swindon Town three years ago, which effectively ended his debut season at Chelsea. The road back to full fitness has been long and arduous; he's been on loan at three different clubs since: AC Milan, Stoke City and PSV Eindhoven, in that order.
After lukewarm spells at the former two, Van Ginkel flourished upon his return to the Eredivisie, scoring eight goals in thirteen games and helping his side to yet another title win, whilst gaining valuable Champions League experience in the process. He started both legs of PSV's Champions League Round of 16 encounter with eventual finalists Atletico Madrid, culminating in a heartbreaking defeat on penalties (MvG converted his take).
Van Ginkel is known to thrive in a 4-3-3 formation, deployed either side of the anchorman, always joining in attack and providing an extra option in a box. Despite playing in this position for Vitesse, Milan and later on, PSV, Mark Hughes opted to play Van Ginkel in a double pivot, in a more defensive role, with the license to occasionally push forward. The decision seemed understandable, given the wealth of attacking talent Stoke possessed further up the pitch, such as Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Affelay, but it ultimately did not work out for Chelsea loanee.
In the video below, you can watch most of Marco's play on the ball and some without it as well, in an encounter between Stoke City and eventual Champions, Leicester City.
In this particular game, paired with the veteran Glenn Whelan, Van Ginkel was ostensibly the less defensive of the two central midfielders, but he never quite found his feet in this game, nor most others. While he attempted to fulfill what was asked of him -- making a good number of tackles and interceptions (3.3 and 2.6 per 90 minutes, respectively) and winning almost 50% of his aerial duels -- he would often fade in and out of games and fail to adequately and consistently influence proceedings. In this deeper position, Van Ginkel was caught in an ugly middle ground: not pro-active enough off the ball and not reactive or direct enough in possession.
That's not to say he was useless -- he would at times make great supporting runs -- but he was simply not able to mesh properly with the new-look Stoke. In a typical example from the aforementioned Leicester game, here's Van Ginkel leaving too large of a space between midfield and defence, not presenting himself as a first passing option, and forcing the defender into a low-percentage play.
Marco should ideally be in the middle of that black box, offering an easy outlet and keeping things ticking over. Instead, he allows Leicester to pressure him and forcing Marc Wilson into a wayward long ball across field. This was a common occurrence for MvG.
Unsurprisingly, Hughes began to prefer the more combative Charlie Adam and later on, even Ibrahim Affelay, and Van Ginkel's opportunities soon dried up. He was reduced to a bit-part player, brought on simply to replace tired legs. When Stoke significantly upgraded their midfield by signing Gianelli Imbula in January, Van Ginkel's time was up.
The season was saved by a last-minute loan back to the Eredivisie. Upon joining PSV, Van Ginkel was deployed in a more familiar role, playing as part of a three man midfield consisting of himself, Andres Guardado and Davy Propper. With fewer defensive responsibilities, MvG was free to join the attack at will. He showcased his sense of timing to great effect, scoring 8 goals in his 13 appearances and ending the season as the top goalscorer of all the Chelsea loanees all around the world.
His changing role and his changes fortunes were reflected on the stat sheets as well. His passing percentage dropped to 79% (from 82% at Stoke), but his shots multiplied several times over to 2.5 per game. His interception numbers also went down to a mere 0.8, but he registered 1.2 successful dribbles and 1 key pass per game while getting dispossessed much more often. Along with Davy Propper, he was also tasked with winning aerial duels from goal-kicks -- he won 1.6 per game, more than any other midfielder.
Below, you can see Van Ginkel's contributions in PSV's 2nd leg encounter against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16, a game which actually demanded more defensive contributions from him than any Eredivisie game.
If you wish to see a more typical outing against an Eredivisie opponent, then you can watch this video of his performance against FC Utrecht.
You can also find all eight of his goals here (along with 71 others from other loanees).
While Wulfert Cornelius endured an increasingly torrid spell at Stoke, he still left the Britannia Stadium a better player than he was at the beginning of the season. Needless to say he has looked much more lively in the Eredivisie, although there remains a lot more to work on, including the defensive side of his game. While it's been a joy to watch his goals in the latter part of the season, one must not forget that PSV were a clear cut above every other team in the league other than Ajax.
Verdict: Van Ginkel seems to have gotten his long-lost confidence back, perhaps finally signalling the end of his rehabilitation period from the devastating knee injury. Clearly, in a somewhat similar manner to a certain Frank Lampard, Van Ginkel has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and possesses a keen eye for goal, although for him to play as an effective box-to-box midfielder in the Premier League, his off-the-ball play will have to improve. Nevertheless, unknowing as we all are with regards to what formation or what type of players Antonio Conte will prefer, now is probably a great time for Van Ginkel to try and prove himself at Chelsea. With two years left on his contract, I would keep Marco van Ginkel next season.