Chelsea: Signing Danny Drinkwater isn’t as bad as you think

If his name was Drinkwaterinho, it would be a completely different story.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Such a statement isn’t entirely true given the Blues will begin the 2017/18 season as the defending Premier League champions. However, replacing Nemanja Matic with Danny Drinkwater is a sign of how far transfer expectations have fallen at Stamford Bridge.

It’s made even more concerning by the fact that Nathaniel Chalobah was allowed to leave to join Watford permanently as Antonio Conte couldn’t promise him game-time. Why, though, if he knew of Manchester United’s interest in Matic, did he let the promising youngster go?

Drinkwater may not be the most glamorous name in football but the Englishman could prove to be an astute piece of business for Chelsea as a squad rotation option. RealSport explains why.

Two midfield roles

Similarly to Matic, Drinkwater can perform two roles in the centre of midfield, depending on the situation and what Conte requires in certain circumstances. The 27-year-old is primarily a deep-lying playmaker, but he can perform the duties of a ball-winning midfielder if needs be.

For exaple, Drinkwater out performed Matic in some defensive aspects during the last campaign, making 13 blocks, 60 clearances, winning 55 tackles, and 38 aerial duels.

These number are greater than that of the Serbian, despite playing 228 minutes less than his counterpart.

Danny Drinkwater 2016/17Nemanja Matic 2016/17
Pass completion78%88%
Chances created1527
Successful take-ons2231
Tackles won5537
Aeriel duels3838

Drinkwater’s creative output for a deep-lying playmaker doesn’t look as impressive as Matic’s, though, with the Englishman registering only one assist compared to Matic’s seven and creating 12 less chances than the Serbian, with a 78% passing accuracy.

However, at times Drinkwater was having to perform two roles for Leicester at once.

He was tasked with winning the ball back, protecting the vulnerable defence and trying to create chances for his forwards. If you put him back next to N’Golo Kante, as Matic was last season, it’s clear to see what Drinkwater is capable of.

Drinkwater & Kante

The argument is that anybody will look good next to Kante, such is the Frenchman’s quality, but does that matter?

The midfielder stood out in Leicester’s title-winning 2015/16 campaign because he was given the attacking freedom to create whilst Kante defended. The situation will be the same at Chelsea.

Drinkwater from two seasons ago compared with last year’s Matic, both of whom ended the respective campaigns as title winners with Kante as their partner, reflects extremely well on the Foxes’ central midfielder.

Danny Drinkwater 2015/16Nemanja Matic 2016/17
Pass completion78%88%
Chances created4427
Successful take-ons3131
Tackles won7437
Aeriel duels2938

For example, he assisted seven goals, as Matic did, but created more chances overall (44) than the man he’d replace (27). Drinkwater also played 37 key passes and completed 31 take-ons.

Despite having Kante as his partner, Drinkwater didn’t neglect his defensive responsibilities and made 17 blocks, 72 clearances, 74 tackles and 55 interceptions, all of which bested Matic last year.

It’s worth noting too, that Matic’s form without Kante by his side in 2015/16, a season in which Jose Mourinho was sacked and Chelsea finished tenth, is dire. 

Tactical variety

Perhaps what is endearing for Conte is that Drinkwater offers tactical variety, different to the likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko.

The £40 million summer signing from Monaco is a defensive option and isn’t the most creative of midfielders, meaning that a Kante-Bakayoko partnership requires Cesc Fabregas to provide the creative spark in a five-man midfield system.

If one of Bakayoko or Kante were injured and Conte had to play a 3-4-3, or another system incorporating a four-man midfield, Fabregas offers little to no defensive support and the burden falls solely upon the defensive midfielder. This was an issue last season and explains why the Spaniard saw less time on the pitch than Matic.

Unlike Fabregas, however, Drinkwater can play in a midfield two, offering attacking threat without compromising defensive solidity, similar to what Matic did for Chelsea before his departure.

RealSport verdict: Solid if unspectacular

Ultimately, Drinkwater offers a reliable option to back up Chelsea’s first team midfield, providing both technical and tactical versatility. The 27-year-old is homegrown, helping to fill that quota, plus has years of experience in the Premier League. Let’s not forget he was lifting the title only a year ago…

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Oli Stein


Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_