It all came together quite late, but Chelsea finally managed to tie up a deal for Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater beyond the eleventh hour, with the Blues shelling out a £35 million fee to bring the Premier League and Championship winner to Stamford Bridge. The deal was confirmed by Leicester’s official club website at 1:30 am on Friday.
Both clubs were granted an extra two hours by the Football Association to get this one over the line, with the Foxes themselves keen to get a late deal of their own done for Sporting Lisbon’s Euro 2016 winning midfielder Adrien Silva, as a replacement for the outgoing Drinkwater.
The £35 million fee is a club record recoup for Leicester, exceeding the £32 million the Blues paid for N’Golo Kanté the previous summer.
The signing of the popular midfielder, who became a fans’ favourite at Leicester, will come as a major boost on a largely frustrating night for Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, who was unable to wrap up a deal for Swansea City forward Fernando Llorente – who opted to join Tottenham – and Ross Barkley, who turned down the opportunity to move to West London from Merseyside club Everton during a medical.
However, what exactly can Chelsea fans expect from a player that they already know a reasonable amount about?
The former Manchester United trainee leaves the King Power after making 217 appearances for the East Midlands club, including 87 Premier League appearances over four top-flight seasons.
He registered three Premier League goals and eight assists to his name in that time, one of those strikes coming at Stamford Bridge against his new club Chelsea in a 1-1 draw during Leicester’s historic title winning campaign in 2015/16.
Those statistics might seem less than convincing, but it is to be expected considering that the midfielder is a deep-lying playmaker, rather than an attacking option. Nevertheless, this warrants some investigation.
With Nemanja Matic having departed for Manchester United, and Cesc Fabregas an ageing force, Chelsea are in need of some fresh legs in midfield, and at 27, Drinkwater is an ideal age with a good few years of service left in him.
He isn’t on the wrong side of 30 and thus can provide the engine Chelsea require in midfield, whilst also coming with enough experience to benefit Antonio Conte’s squad.
A statistical breakdown of Drinkwater’s contributions in Leicester’s title-winning 2015/16 season, and those of Fabregas in Chelsea’s title campaign last term, also throws up some interesting results.
Drinkwater averaged 56.69 passes per game, created ten big chances, enjoyed a 70% success rate in his 106 tackles, scored twice and assisted seven times over 35 games. Fabregas featured 29 times, scoring twice, assisting 12 times, averaging 45.72 passes per game and completing 87% of his 30 tackles.
On the defensive side of things, Drinkwater in that season put in 11 blocks, 55 interceptions, 68 clearances, 342 recoveries and won 191 duels. Fabregas last season contributed 5 blocks, 16 interceptions, 16 clearances, 102 recoveries and won 68 of his duels.
So, what Chelsea will be acquiring in Drinkwater, according to this, is a more defensive-minded playmaker than an attacking one, more suited to filling the void left by Nemanja Matic than Fabregas, but one who will fit into their passing system in midfield nonetheless.
Having mentioned Matic, his own statistics from last season include 35 appearances in the league, one goal, seven assists, a rate of 53.29 passes per game, four big chances created, and 73% of 51 tackles completed.
He also clocked up seven blocks, 50 interceptions, 46 clearances, 241 recoveries and 143 duels won. Outwardly, it might seem the Serbian, now at Manchester United, is a slightly more defensive minded player then Chelsea’s new man.
But, if we compare those with Drinkwater’s statistics from 2016/17, he clocked up one goal and one assist in 29 games, averaging 60.17 passes per game, creating one big chance, putting in 84 tackles and completing 64% of them, whilst putting in 13 blocks, 40 interceptions, 52 clearances, a whopping 266 recoveries and winning 153 duels.
Of course, Drinkwater was required to do far more defensive work during 2016/17 than in 2015/16 due to the absence of a midfielder like N’Golo Kanté next to him.
It would make sense, with his strengths being more in defence and passing, to operate him as a defensive midfielder like Nemanja Matic.
However, re-establishing that midfield partnership with Kanté that proved so successful at Leicester, may well offer Drinkwater the creative license that he enjoyed then at the King Power that he hasn’t since, which may help drive up those attacking statistics that currently seem inferior to those of Fabregas.
The chemistry between the two in midfield from that extraordinary Leicester season may also be an attractive prospect for Conte.
Thus, in Drinkwater, Chelsea are signing a well-rounded and experienced midfield playmaker who can play deep and provide a driving engine in the centre of the park, and may well have the freedom to play more key passes and score more goals at Stamford Bridge.
He is a great void filler for Matic’s departure, and may well be the figure Conte has in mind to step into Fabregas’ boots when his time in West London is up. The freedom which a partnership with Kanté offers would allow him to refine his game enough to fill that role out to the best of his ability.
There may well be more developments to come in his game with that in mind, but he undoubtedly offers Conte a great deal in midfield. At just £35 million in today’s market, it may well prove a shrewd piece of business from Conte and will go some way to easing his woes after a deadline day of mixed fortunes at the Bridge.