Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Will Raúl Meireles be missed for Chelsea?

If you fail to sign Luka Modric, try and try again. And then at the last minute turn to Raul Meireles…

After months of chasing the Croatian midfielder; the player himself handing in a formal transfer request and still not getting any further, Chelsea needed to look into alternative options. On “Deadline Day”, with hours remaining in the 11/12 transfer window, Meireles handed in a transfer request and found himself signing for Chelsea not long after, where he was reacquainted with André Villas-Boas.

Meireles conceded that he didn’t want to leave Liverpool, but the chance to work with his old friend AVB was too good to refuse. So Chelsea forked out a reported £12m for a player that wasn’t exactly wanting to come to Stamford Bridge. It’s fair to say he wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Not initially, anyway. Although he was a last-minute coup for Chelsea, Meireles’ services were desperately needed with Michael Essien having suffered a long-term injury. He was thrown straight in at the deep end and struggled to make an impression. However, as the season progressed he grew in confidence and succeeding in winning over the fans (just about). He was an integral part of the team that managed to overcome the might and force of Barcelona, even sacrificing himself playing in the Champions League final (of which Geoff Shreeves was the first to remind him) by taking down Mascherano on the halfway line to save his team-mates from a counter-attack. That moment of self-sacrifice is one of the few moments that will remain in the memory of many Chelsea fans, alongside that goal against Benfica en route to Munich. What. a. goal.

Having signed for a rumoured £8m at Fenerbahçe, Meireles leaves a tender Chelsea midfield looking even more depleted. As Meireles prepares for bigger, better and hostile things in Turkey, his ex-colleagues in Lampard, Mikel, Ramires, Romeu and even Brazilian wonderkid, Oscar, are left to fight it out for the two “double-pivot” spots in Di Matteo’s 4-2-3-1. With five players fighting for two places, you would think there’s a lot of cover and strength in depth. Oh how numbers are deceiving…

There’s a lot of question marks surrounding those five players. Mikel and Romeu are the only two distinguished, out-and-out defensive midfielders out of the bunch, both of whom still have a lot to learn. Mikel has severely improved over the years, but he’s still not a definite name on the teamsheet. Lampard fought valiantly for the remainder of last season in a position that doesn’t best suit him, and it could be argued that the formation isn’t to his taste, either. Ramires is full of energy and would probably be best modelled as a box-to-box midfielder, though he’s been deployed in more attacking roles since Di Matteo came in (perhaps because Chelsea were lacking the personnel last season…) which has only been effective on a few very notable occasions. *cough* Chip over Valdes in the Camp Nou. *cough* And lastly, Oscar, the £25m youngster who is yet to cement a stronghold within the starting line-up, and that’s without considering the fact that he’s more effective further up the pitch.

It’s not as if there’s a Claude Makélélé within the Chelsea ranks anymore, or even more recently, a Michael Essien. There’s a lot of competition for the midfield spots, yes, but we’re yet to witness someone make that position their own. (Now’s your time, Oriol!) That being said, I don’t think letting Meireles go is as severe as many are making it out to be, but I do find the decision to let Meireles leave with no time to find a replacement rather baffling. I don’t think we’ll miss him per se, but I’ll miss having the occasional chuckle at his haircuts – if you can call them that – and I’m grateful for his work ethic and his efforts during his time at Stamford Bridge. Don’t forget he played a big part in the side that brought home the Champions League… and they will never be forgotten.

Thank you and good luck, Raul.

By Gdostephens.

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