Moises Caicedo fires clear Conor Gallagher Chelsea message amid imminent transfer decision

Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher

Moises Caicedo has described Chelsea teammate Conor Gallagher as being 'like a machine' as the pair now look to anchor the midfield in the absence of Enzo Fernandez. Having formed a strong partnership earlier in the season in a triumvirate, it is down to just two for the rest of the campaign.

Fernandez will play no further role in the fortunes of Mauricio Pochettino's team after having surgery on a groin issue that has been bothering him for months. The Argentine has previously missed games via injury this term but now leaves a depleted set of options for his coach.

Pochettino has often preferred to play with three midfielders in his 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system, mixing between selecting Fernandez and Gallagher in the most advanced spot. Even with an academy graduate, it is one of the most expensive trios in the world with Caicedo and Fernandez taking it in turns to break the British transfer record in the past 18 months.

Gallagher, though, has been not only the top performer on most occasions, outshining his partners, but also the most readily available. Of the 33 league matches played he has started 32, with the one missed being down to suspension. It isn't a surprise therefore that nobody in the squad has played more minutes in the league than Gallagher and only Axel Disasi has clocked over his 3,600 in all competitions as well.

Despite being up for sale in each of the past four transfer windows, Gallagher has consistently blocked out the noise surrounding his future to play an integral role for Pochettino. More often than not he has captained the side as well with Reece James and Ben Chilwell both out injured for large portions of the season.

Against Arsenal in the bruising 5-0 defeat last week it was he that was left to address fan frustrations in the media afterwards. The 24-year-old has also unfairly been cast as simply a road-runner with energy to burn too, described as a player lacking fundamental skill on the ball or discipline to thrive at this level.

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However, his performances under Pochettino tell a different story and that was evident as he fired in a stunning weak-footed equaliser against Aston Villa on Saturday. He may have described it as a 'swinger' but the reality was that Gallagher powered this curling shot beyond a helpless Robin Olsen with purpose, and at a crucial time.

Despite playing in a deeper position, only Cole Palmer, Nicolas Jackson, and Raheem Sterling have more goals than Gallagher this season and he is joint second for assists in the squad too. Albeit with significantly more matches played, Gallagher has shown versatility and flexibility to his game and has seen his stock continue to rise.

Though not enough yet, it seems, to warrant more serious contract talks with the club. He hasn't been offered a new deal with just over 12 months left to run on his current one and it comes with Chelsea needing to sell players in the summer to remain compliant with Premier League financial rules.

To get the full benefit of selling a player - especially one that counts as 'pure profit' in the accounts - then a sale before June 30 is crucial. That leaves Chelsea a very small window to operate in if they are to once more try and move on the boyhood Blues fan.

As seen with Mason Mount last summer, the new owners will not entertain players entering the final year of their contracts due to the risk of being lost for free. It means that once the season is over attention will turn quickly to Gallagher's future and the big decision left to be made.

Alongside Caicedo in midfield at Villa Park he was at his best once more though, continuing to demonstrate his quality and doing no harm to his price tag or bargaining position with the club. "With Conor he is like a machine," Caicedo explained of his partner.

"I like to play with Conor and Enzo. With Conor because there are some different characteristics. Enzo is more of an offensive player and Conor is more defensive, he helped me a lot when we need to recover the ball back, it's amazing to play with both."

How to get the best out of each of them as well as maintaining attacking threat is something that Pochettino has been attempting to figure out for most of the season. Now the task is much simpler, with neither Caicedo or Gallagher in a position to let up due to the lack of alternatives.

Injuries to Lesley Ugochukwu and Romeo Lavia have reduced the options available while Andrey Santos has been on two loans and Cesare Casadei seen as more of a late enforcer higher up the field than a reliable starter. There are just five games to go for Chelsea and it could see both Caicedo and Gallagher breach the 4,000-minute mark this season, a remarkable amount.

Caicedo certainty isn't going anywhere in the near future but Chelsea's lack of progress with tying down Gallagher - or attempting to open communication over it - will come into sharp focus again. Caicedo's best performances have tended to come alongside Gallagher whereas the Cobham student has managed to replicate high-level displays more readily without as much aid.

It certainly wouldn't be only Caicedo that would suffer if Gallagher was to be sold. His latest message appears to make that abundantly clear.