Sports Features of Thursday, 27 September 2012


Essien could be the missing piece for Real Madrid

At the last minute of the Summer transfer window, Real Madrid surprised everyone by signing Michael Essien, on loan for one year, from Chelsea.

The midfielder from Ghana was signed by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and quickly became one of his go-to players, much like Carvalho, Lampard or Drogba.

The idea behind his last minute signing for Real Madrid was that Essien could take the spot left on the squad by Lass Diarra, who in the last months of the 2011/12 season had completely disappeared from Mourinho’s call ups.

Essien, about to turn 30 years old, was a great signing for the Whites: The veteran gave his coach the option of playing with a three-man defensive midfield, one of Mou’s favorite line ups, while also becoming a perfect backup on the right back for Arbeloa, who is the only player on the team without a designated replacement.

Even as a last resort, Essien could be the second string man for Khedira, who is another one of Mou’s favorites.

The Ghanaian, however, has impressed as Xabi Alonso’s counterpart on the midfield, and after just two games, he has shown that he could be the perfect match for the former Liverpol centermid, who has not yet fully adapted to playing with the Khedira.

Against Rayo Vallecano, Mourinho gave Sammi Khedira a break and played the former Chelsea strong man in the middle.

Essien had a great game and was the perfect balance between defense and offense. His stamina and physical abilities are sure fire on the defensive scheme of the team, since he can help cover the open spaces behind Di Maria and Ronaldo, or behind Arbeloa and Marcelo, as they push up from the flank.

But unlike Khedira, Essien is also an option when the team needs to come out with the ball being played from behind.

Up until this season, Xabi Alonso was the only safe conduct for those occasions when Pepe and Ramos wanted to start the attacking plays of the team down the middle.

For opponents, it was easy to counter this tactical move, since simply marking Xabi would push the team to start to build the attack closer to the outside lines, through the fullbacks, or actually commit the team to omit elaboration down the middle and have to try the long range pass to Cristiano Ronaldo or Benzema/Higuaín.

Now, Essien, who with his National Team actually fills up the role of attacking midfielder, solves this issue for Mourinho and the rest of the team, as his ability to connect the defense to the attacking line is one of his strong points.

The team now has another option to be able to control the game in the middle and to survive the first line of pressure of it’s rival.

While Luka Modric can potentially play in that position, his weaker physique makes Mourinho see him as more of an attacking midfielder, someone who can play in Ozil’s spot, but definitely not someone who can stand tall against the opponents’ attacks in the midfield.

Essien, on the other hand, is a man made for that job and while the midfielder from Ghana is only on loan with Real Madrid for one year, being one of Mourinho’s favorites, and if his knees can keep up with the over 70 games per season Real Madrid plays a year (he missed more than one full season with Chelsea due to injuries on both knees), his stay in Spain could actually get stretched.