With Chelsea finally close to completing a deal for Abdul Baba Rahman, who has the most to fear from the left-back’s arrival at Stamford Bridge?
The return of Filipe Luis to Atletico Madrid has created the need for Jose Mourinho to sign a new left-back, which is probably a more appealing prospect than turning to Bertrand Traore as cover, especially as there is a general paucity about Chelsea’s defensive options.
A fee of around £17.5million has been suggested to sign Rahman from Augsburg and the Ghanaian surely can’t be coming just to provide back-up to Cesar Azpilicueta. And, given the shaky performance in defence in the opening 2-2 draw with Swansea, Rahman’s arrival and injection of pace could be just what’s needed. The conundrum is that, if Rahman does go straight into the team, then which player drops out of a defence which was the best in the Premier League last season?
Though Azpilicueta was justifiably considered the best left-back in the division last season, the Spaniard is still more naturally suited to playing on the right. He played 29 games in the league, but would have had a higher total had it not been for injury. He is a vitally important player and it would seem strange to drop him out of the starting line-up to accommodate Rahman.
Moving Azpilicueta over to his more natural position on the right, therefore, would put Branislav Ivanovic’s place in the team under threat. But would Mourinho really consider dropping the man he named vice-captain to John Terry in the summer?
If there were any bookie offers on such a scenario, it would be interesting to see what price you would get on Ivanovic being axed just one game into the new season. Certainly, the Serb’s performance against Swansea raised question marks for the coming months given how often he was exposed by Jefferson Montero and also caught further forward.
But, just as Azpilicueta was the best left-back in the Premier League, Ivanovic was the best right-back last season as he started every game en route to Chelsea winning the title. It would surely be a knee-jerk reaction to drop the 31-year-old on the basis of one game.
Still, it will have given Mourinho food for thought as to whether Ivanovic could be targeted by opposition wingers more often given the way Montero seemed to have his measure.
The one way to solve this little puzzle would be to move Ivanovic into the centre of defence and leave Gary Cahill out of the team. Cahill and Terry were the most effective partnership last season, and it would be a brave decision to break up that pairing. But that may be what Mourinho has to do if he wants to play Azpilicueta, Ivanovic and Rahman in the same team.
Mourinho could clearly use Rahman as a costly understudy at left-back, but he possesses the attacking pace and thrust which Chelsea are going to need this season, if they want to keep one step ahead of their rivals.
It would have been unthinkable before the start of pre-season that Ivanovic’s place in the team would be under threat, but football doesn’t stand still for anyone, and Mourinho knows this more than most managers. He also knows there is no room for sentiment and Chelsea’s vice-captain could suddenly find himself being demoted just as quickly as he has been promoted.
by Ben Sutherland