The Chelsea transfer wildcard that could solve problem position for Frank Lampard
The left-back position has been a source of frustration this season with Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri providing issues in terms of defensive assurance and overall qualityby Reece Chambers
Chelsea’s search for a left-back is said to be right at the top of Frank Lampard’s priority list ahead of the next transfer window.
The Blues have undergone a major restructuring under Lampard with an increased focus on the youthful core at the squad providing an exciting future at Stamford Bridge.
When it comes to most of the squad, Chelsea are well stocked with the likes of Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham and others having developed into first team regulars who are likely to be the main men going forward.
However, the left-back position has been a source of frustration this season with Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri providing issues in terms of defensive assurance and overall quality.
As a result, continued links with a move for Ben Chilwell have gathered momentum after the 23-year-old’s development under Brendan Rodgers at Leicester City this season. The price needed to lure the full-back away from the King Power Stadium is expected to be upwards of £60million and could therefore force Chelsea to look elsewhere in the current climate.
Before looking beyond the Premier League, Lampard and the club’s hierarchy could explore the option of signing Burnley’s Dwight McNeil in a deal that may surprise a few but has a degree of sense when taking a detailed look at his qualities.
The Burnley left-sided midfielder has been a consistent source of creativity for the Clarets since the start of last season and rightly received widespread praise.
Such praise has indeed linked him with possible moves to top six clubs in the Premier League, but converting the 20-year-old into a full-back is an alternative approach.
His experience in the Premier League so far, though, shows why functioning as a left-back could prove a logical suggestion. Sean Dyche’s Burnley have one of the most direct setups in the league and a low-block 4-4-2 formation often requires the midfielders to work in defensive areas.
For McNeil, that often means surrendering his creative attributes in favour of supporting his full-back and defending for large periods of games. Such experience in the Premier League means that he has a sound understanding of key defensive principles and could be viewed as a platform to build on as a possible left-back option.
Data provider Statsbomb, via FBRef, credits the Burnley man with a total of 0.82 tackles won per 90 minutes this season which isn’t significantly different to Andrew Robertson’s 1.07 at left-back for Liverpool.
The fact that McNeil performs at a similar rate in terms of tackles to Robertson doesn’t tell us a lot without context, but it is a starting point to delve deeper into his defensive capabilities.
To contextualise such numbers, looking at which thirds of the pitch that the Burnley man frequently operates in shows us similar evidence to indicate how he could fit into a more possession-based system as a full-back.
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So far this season, 49.31% of McNeil’s touches have come in the middle third which is similar to Marcos Alonso’s 43.8% and therefore shows similarities in their overall involvement. The difference between Lampard’s 4-2-3-1 formation and Dyche’s 4-4-2 means that the role performed by McNeil at Stamford Bridge would not be entirely different and could even see him receive more possession.
The fact that he performs similarly to Alonso from a positional sense shows why this wildcard suggestion might not be as outlandish as first thought. Indeed, it is a role that would require time to be accustomed to for McNeil, though the creativity that he has shown in an incredibly uncreative Burnley side should also be a key point of consideration.
Playing in just his second Premier League season, he has already made a long-lasting impression with crucial contributions going forward for Burnley. 2.71 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes is the highest of any player in the Burnley squad and would most certainly improve in Chelsea’s more attacking system.
Above all, the prospect of this move happening stands as an interesting thought process as to how Lampard and his backroom staff could further develop young English talent.
McNeil may not be as well regarded as the future of English football because he plays in a far more unfashionable side like Burnley but his individual strengths deserve to be placed in a more creative setup in the future.
For Chelsea, developing McNeil into a left-back could be a perfect way of addressing a key issue whilst also providing another young Englishman with the platform to thrive.