It’s a pleasure to see The Special One return to the Premier League. His antics provide the media with so much fodder to digest, swoon over and replay over and over again. Not to be undersold, however, are his transfer tactics.
It seemed as though the Gareth Bale transfer saga was finally coming to a close as Real Madrid were close to unveiling the Welsh winger as their latest addition. But Jose being Jose, he swooped in at the last minute and put in a bid for the Brazilian winger Willian, who was presumably Bale’s replacement. Upon first glance, this appears to be a move simply to spite Tottenham, Chelsea’s North London rival. After all, Chelsea have tons of talent in their attacking midfield — Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar, Victor Moses, Kevin de Bruyne, Andre Schurrle. Surely that’s enough, no?
Despite seeming like a spiteful move, I would argue that signing Willian is a smart tactical move by Chelsea.
We saw last season how Chelsea’s fixtures piled up between the league, FA Cup, League Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, Champions League and the Europa League. Squad rotation was a vital part of why Chelsea finished third in the table, making it to the semifinals of the FA Cup and League Cup, and winning the Europa League trophy. Granted, squad rotation is a staple of Rafa Benitez’s management style, and would be expected under a Chelsea squad managed by him. Mourinho may not have the same reputation and identity as a rotator, but as smart of a manager as he is, he will no doubt use rotation to his advantage to help Chelsea win trophies, and WIllian can be a key part of that.
Willian would equip Chelsea with a clear pair of options at every position in the attacking midfield. Ideally, this would feature Eden Hazard and Juan Mata rotating on the left side, Andre Schurrle and Kevin de Bruyne in the center, and Victor Moses and Willian on the right hand side.
Now before Chelsea supporters crucify me for not mentioning Oscar, let me assure you that his dynamism affords him his own section. Oscar is undeniably effective in the final third of the pitch, both as a scorer as well as a facilitator and chance creator. But Oscar has a history of being a workhorse in the defensive third of the pitch, tracking far back to break up play, making effective tackles and winning the ball. Oscar could really benefit the squad by playing as a holding midfielder, as he effectively already plays that role. Plus, at times when Chelsea look to dominate and bring the game to the opposition, his attacking impetus could be put to work when he pushes up the pitch. That is to say, he provides a degree of creativity greater than any of Chelsea’s other holding midfielders, and his skill could afford Mourinho the freedom to play the more purely attacking midfielders in the final third.
Of course this is all hypothetical, and it may still be that with the incredible sum Spurs get for Gareth Bale, they can outbid Chelsea (or bid more desperately than Chelsea) for Willian. But maybe, just maybe, Chelsea’s £32million bid for Willian (which is rumored to have been accepted by Anzhi) is more of a tactical one than a spiteful one.