"You voted me #5?????" - Oliver Hardt
We'll be taking a closer look at Chelsea's top prospects leading up to the new year, and today we'll look at another youngster that would upgrade our squad right now
Today's entry into Chelsea's top ten list very nearly ended up being the top prospect on our list overall. Had we not included the WAGNH community vote, he'd have finished just ahead of tomorrow's entry as our No. 1 prospect. He checked in at No. 5 on the community list though, and that dropped him to second on our list. We Ain't Got No History's No. 2 prospect is:
A fee to buy De Bruyne from Genk was agreed eleven months ago, but he spent the remainder of the season with the Belgian club before officially joining Chelsea when the summer window opened. There were strong rumors of a loan move to Germany from the moment he signed with Chelsea, and sure enough, he was sent to Werder Bremen on a season long loan.
There was never any question of whether or not De Bruyne would see minutes at Werder Bremen, as he was clearly already good enough to start for them in some capacity. Predictably, he's already started 18 games for them and logged nearly 1800 minutes.
Where those minutes would come was always a bit of a question, and for his first few weeks it appeared the answer was "everywhere". De Bruyne was used as a striker, #10, left wing, and right wing before eventually slotting into a central pair playing just behind the center forward. We'll see if that's where he remains this season, but it seems to maximize his touches, and for now that's good for both Bremen and the player.
De Bruyne has showed very little trouble adapting to the Bundesliga, as he's been just as good against that competition as he was in Belgium. He's registered four goals and six assists thus far, and he's been a key part in the creation of many more. Werder fans may have been upset when we took Marko Marin from them, but we've certainly made nice by loaning them a better player.
Like Marin, De Bruyne has shown Bundesliga followers some tremendous skill with the ball at his feet. For a player that frequently leads his team in touches, he doesn't have the ball taken off his feet very often. His passing has also been exceptional, as he's shown himself to be more than capable of making every sort of pass look easy. He's especially good at weighting long balls, and he's not hesitant at all to do so. He's also an adept long shooter, and his delivery on set pieces and corners has been excellent.
Because of that combination of skills, many here have been quick to scream recall with the idea of playing him in a deep lying role. While his passing and shooting would certainly suggest he's capable of that, I think it would be a fairly terrible idea right now. For starters, his tendency to dribble at players in order to force defenders to commit would become quite the liability in a deeper role. In an attacking role, it's a fantastic asset. Rather than thrusting him into a role where he'd simply have to stop doing it, I'd much rather see him continue to be aggressive while gradually being asked to come deeper, improving his decision making in the process.
More notably would be De Bruyne's defensive skills. He's a more than willing worker, I've yet to really note him failing to track back. He's also pretty good about identifying where to be, and filling the appropriate spaces.
Unfortunately that's where my defensive praise of De Bruyne is going to end. He's a terrible tackler at this point, committing fouls or coming up empty on over 3/4 of his attempts to dispossess an opponent. He does seem to realize that he's just very poor in this regard, and doesn't attempt to tackle very often because of it. He also tends to back off and cover space, but doesn't intercept many balls in the process.
These are things that should hopefully improve over time, but at the moment make him an awful fit for our double pivot. The way Werder are using him right now makes far more sense, starting him in a more advanced role and allowing him to come deep as the team gets possession of the ball. It's very similar to the way Tottenham work Luka Modric into a deeper role, and would also seem to be the general approach we are using with Oscar. He should develop a better al around game that way without becoming a Scholes-esque liability on defense.
With all of that out of the way, De Bruyne is someone that could still fight for a starting job at any club in England right now. His offensive game is very well rounded and polished well beyond what should be seen from a 21-year old, and his defensive recognition is exceptional for a player that has been used primarily in a central role for less than a year. He's an excellent prospect in the center of the pitch, and the idea of both he and Oscar someday working together in that regard is just mouth watering.
I'm all for letting De Bruyne play out the season at Werder, as 20 more games in the center of the pitch before asking him to fight for minutes here can only help. I'd be quite upset, however, if he's not involved with the Chelsea first team next season. He's ready right now, and with 20 more games and a summer of training, he could probably be a legitimate option to replace Frank Lampard.
If you haven't been watching Werder Bremen play regularly (and by looking at the community voting, I can only believe many don't have the ability to do so), you really need to do what you can to find a stream to see them. The 7 million pounds we reportedly spent on De Bruyne just looks like silly value right now, and there is absolutely no reason to believe he won't be starting a fair number of games for Chelsea as soon as next fall. Watch him this spring as much as you can, it's worth it.