Early Doors

Losing Essien a big blow for Blues

Early Doors

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In a league that, above any other at the elite level, values physical qualities over technical excellence, there are few more thrilling sights than seeing Michael Essien dominate a game, flying around at full pelt and leaving opponents cowering in his wake.

Sadly for the Premier League, Monday's news that he has sustained another serious knee injury may cast a long shadow over the career of one of English football's finest midfielders.

After Essien suffered substantial swelling having landed awkwardly in training last week, the club's worst fears were realised when it was confirmed he will be sidelined for six months after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee.

However, there were quickly suggestions that his Chelsea team-mates do not expect to see him in action for almost the entirety of the coming season.

It is another cruel blow for a classy player who has had no shortage of setbacks in recent seasons, as this is not the first time he has been struck down by knee problems. In September 2008, the Ghana midfielder sustained a partial tear of a cruciate ligament in his right knee and was out for six months, while last year he was out for seven months and missed the World Cup finals after tearing the medial ligament in his left knee prior to the African Cup of Nations.

Though last season he made 43 appearances for the Blues, Essien was not the same player who first exploded on to the Premier League scene following his £24 million move from Lyon in 2005, helping destroy teams with his formidable physical presence. Those previous injuries appeared to dull his dynamism and it remains to be seen if his effectiveness is further eroded following this latest blow.

The cases of players such as Owen Hargreaves and the man whom ED will always refer to as 'the real Ronaldo' suggest a law of diminishing returns when it comes to persistent knee injuries, but conversely Alan Shearer managed to realign his game, if not his dull-as-dishwater persona, following similar problems and maintained most of his potency.

For now, of course, Chelsea are only discussing the midfielder's return to fitness.

"Everyone at Chelsea wishes Michael well for his recovery," manager Andre Villas-Boas said on Monday. "His team-mates and all the staff and I look forward to helping him return to playing as soon as possible."

Chelsea may very well, in the press vernacular, "step up" their attempts to sign Luka Modric, and it is reported that a second offer of £27 million has been made for the Tottenham midfielder. However, in no way is he a replacement.

The club targeted Modric before the latest burst of ill-fortune to affect Essien and they are entirely different players. One is a Ghanaian bulldozer, nicknamed The Bison, while the other is a graceful little playmaker who more resembles a mouse. Albeit a mouse that can pick a classy pass and go to war with Daniel Levy.

If Villas-Boas sticks with the 4-1-2-3 formation that saw him collect three trophies with Porto last season then it is clear to ED that Modric has been identified as one of the midfield two, leaving Frank Lampard and Ramires to compete for the other spot.

Given Essien slotted into similar positions last season under Carlo Ancelotti, it was entirely likely that bringing in the Croatian would have meant Essien dropping back to anchor the midfield in place of John Obi Mikel, as Fernando did for Villas-Boas at Porto, and Claude Makelele did with such distinction at Stamford Bridge that they named the position after him. 

However, that scenario has now been prevented, and by extension Essien's injury has provided a lucky break for Mikel, who remains a man who divides opinion.

He is one of those players who sits on the faultline of one of football's big stylistic debates: is Mikel a metronomic player who keeps that much-heralded pass completion rate high, or is he the archetypal sideways passer, for whom statistics mask his limitations as a player?

In ED's opinion the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but it is fair to say there would be a number of Chelsea fans feeling slightly apprehensive at the sight of seeing the Nigerian anchoring the midfield at the start of the season.

Either way, it was rather timely that Chelsea's official website published a story on Monday night that was headlined: "Mikel looking forward to match action".

Despite having the option to bring David Luiz forward, it is said Chelsea now want to buy a replacement for Essien and that Joao Moutinho, who made Villas-Boas's Porto tick, is a likely candidate. However, he is no holding player and is more of a Xavi than a Busquets. The Portugal international would be a square peg in a round hole.

Instead it is to former player Scott Parker that Chelsea may turn after his success in being named Footballer of the Year last season despite West Ham's relegation.

Parker's last spell at Stamford Bridge stalled a career that had enjoyed an upwards trajectory ever since he performed that juggling act in his garden for McDonald's but having secured a starting spot for England of late, and in a holding role no less, it would be a very different player coming back to SW6.

Parker appears a good fit, but in truth he is no Essien. Few players are, which makes it all the more galling to fear that he himself might never reach those heights again.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "He is the manager. If he stands by that decision, it is a brave one. I don't know if the directors will enjoy that one, but it is possible." - Sir Alex Ferguson stirs the pot when being told that Arsenal may keep Samir Nasri and risk losing him for free next summer when his contract expires.

FOREIGN VIEW: Gokhan Inler showed he is the new pride of Napoli when donning a lion mask prior to being unveiled to the Italian press on Monday. ED hopes English sides will now follow suit, and that Chelsea will bring Luka Modric into his first press conference disguised as Richard Nixon.

COMING UP: The Copa America continues on Tuesday night as Chile take on Peru (00:15) and Uruguay face Mexico (01:45). Oh, and if you are a fan of watching cyclists disentangle themselves from barbed wire fences after being run off the road by a car, the Tour de France continues today with Stage 12 following a much-needed rest day.

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