With every passing performance, as one of the quickest declines of a Premier League-winning team continues at pace, Chelsea’s summer transfer activity looks all the more curious.
Jose Mourinho’s insistence that his current squad needed little plumping, on the basis that they strolled to the Premier League title, was obliterated with a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City. Five players were hastily ushered in afterwards.
None of the new quintet play in central midfield, despite Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic’s obvious struggles, and the Portuguese all of a sudden looks remarkably light on options in that part of the field.
Last season, when the duo made 33 and 35 league starts respectively and were the top-flight’s undoubted premium pairing, nobody stopped to consider what would happen if either of them were to lose form or suffer a long-term injury.
Now that Mourinho’s main midfield men look simultaneously out of nick, the decision not to strengthen in their position looks to be the wrong one.
Performances like the one Giannelli Imbula put in for Porto, in the 2-1 Champions League victory over the Blues on Tuesday night, don’t help either. Chelsea, despite that loss, remain 4/5 favourites to win Group G, by the way.
Imbula, signed by the Dragons for €20m from Marseille this summer, is a rangy and athletic central midfielder by trade. However, he was deployed on the left wing by Julen Lopetegui against the Blues and ran amok.
Amid a passing performance that included three key knocks and a 90.7 percent completion rate were six dribbles, one of which would have made for pretty unwelcome viewing for Mourinho.
Immortalised by @FCPortoCentral in gif-form on Twitter, Imbula collected the ball centrally, midway in his own half, and proceeded to breeze beyond Fabregas, Branislav Ivanovic and Matic. A cynical tug back from the latter was all that stopped him.
Here is Imbula’s great dribble in the second half! pic.twitter.com/yWI2Hj3FVd
— FC Porto Central (@FCPortoCentral) September 29, 2015
There isn’t a player in Chelsea’s midfield – beyond perhaps Ramires, at a push – that is able to relieve the pressure in the middle of the park in this way.
Beyond his quick feet, Imbula’s mobility, physicality and general frame have all helped fuel both comparisons to Patrick Vieira and links with Real Madrid while still a Marseille man.
In his analysis of the best European transfers of the summer, journalist Andy Brassell expected Porto to harness Imbula’s talents in the Champions League, before selling him on to a Premier League club at huge profit.
If their slump continues, Chelsea could fulfil that prophecy as early as January.