Enzo Fernandez is Chelsea’s sole shining light to take into next season
The end of the 2022/23 season cannot come quickly enough for Chelsea, more so than for any other Premier League club.
A pair of transfer windows have yielded a huge turnover in the playing staff and more is to come this summer, while the eventual appointment of Mauricio Pochettino has to bring an end to months of farcical decision-making within the coaching structure.
There’s so much to fix that even interim boss Frank Lampard cannot be held hugely accountable for their impending bottom-half finish - though what is now an 11 per cent win rate, following this 1-0 defeat to re-crowned champions Manchester City, certainly bears plenty of scrutiny in itself. All in all, it’s far worse than one which can be passed off as just a season to forget; lessons have to be learned, errors rectified, the few positives which do exist taken forward as cornerstones for next season and beyond.
There aren’t too many of those, but Enzo Fernandez is one.
As a £106 million midfielder perhaps declaring him a ‘positive’ is the absolute least Chelsea fans should expect, but since none of the £210m or so spent on Mykhailo Mudryk, Marc Cucurella, Benoit Badiashile, Noni Madueke and David Datro Fofana would even reach that level so far - nor the £10m loan fee for Joao Felix - then the World Cup-winning No.5 certainly qualifies as a notable exception.
At the Etihad Stadium, the good and the bad around Fernandez’s game was on show. Not that the bad parts are his fault for the most part, mind; rather, they are the bad aspects of the team around him which are visibly and increasingly frustrating him in recent weeks.
He was, indirectly, involved in Man City’s opener for example. Fernandez made a smart - if routine and expected - quick drop into space to receive possession off his central defenders. Sadly for the Blues, Wesley Fofana’s first-time pass to him was wayward, Cole Palmer rampaged towards the back line and Julian Alvarez did the rest.
Similarly in the first half, Fernandez embarked on a defensive burst, stepping out of the midfield line to press one City player, then another. He turned, looking to Kai Havertz to follow him and step out for the next challenge - only to see him not bothering. Enzo berated his teammate, did it himself, dropped in, pressed again, turned around once more...and this time Conor Gallagher hadn’t closed in to his man either. The Argentine thrust his arm out, clearly disgusted, and gave up the ghost.
Over and over across the course of this largely irrelevant occasion - the match reduced to serving as a central focus point for a title celebration after Arsenal’s latest choke - Fernandez was left irked by his teammates’ lack of effort, lack of movement, lack of quality.
He, and few others in dark blue, interspersed the game with instances of technique: a lofted diagonal to set up Raheem Sterling in the first half, another clipped reverse ball in the final instances which almost brought a late equaliser for Cesar Azpilicueta. Fernandez has the capacity to take the ball on the half turn and execute the pass he has already seen; sadly, too many of those playing higher upfield than him either lack the willingness or the ability to make the necessary run on time.
That will be one of Pochettino’s big jobs, once he is indeed confirmed as the new Stamford Bridge appointment. Chelsea lack the ideas and patterns of both how to build from deep and how to link up play in the middle and final thirds. Adding in the obvious issues of goalscoring they’ve suffered this term, Enzo Fernandez as the cog to build around makes most sense from both the perspective of a blank tactical canvas, and from trying to get most value out of their biggest investments.
Lampard has made the Argentinian midfielder a key component in a failing side; it’ll be up to Pochettino to put him at the heart of a functioning one.