The best 25-man squad of the Roman Abramovich era – Part 3

What players will form the ultimate midfield trio?

By Terry Sazio

So we’re at the halfway point of making the ultimate starting line-up and making our way closer to the best 25-man squad of the Roman Abramovich era.

In part one, Petr Čech was the overriding choice from both myself and the readers to be our man between the posts.

In part two, Branislav Ivanović, Ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry (our captain for this team too) formed the defence.

So far, this team looks rock solid from a defensive perspective. Now it’s time to start revealing the attacking side of this team. And that begins with our midfield.

In this part, I will be revealing who I and the readers chose for all 3 roles in the midfield:

• Defensive midfielder/Deep-Lying Playmaker (DM)
• ‘All-round’ central midfielder (CM)
• Attacking midfielder (AM)

Just as a reminder, you will see the player that I chose for each position and the player that you chose via the polls.

The starting line-up will hypothetically be playing in a 4-3-3 formation, as that has been the most used formation in this era. You will also see a substitutes’ bench consisting of seven players, along with seven more who didn’t make the bench but help to complete the squad(s).

In regards to what I mentioned in part one about the structure of my squad (how many players in each part of the team – GK/DF/MD/FW), my amount for each part will slightly vary to what you, the readers, will have in yours.

My squad will consist of three goalkeepers, seven defenders (4 centre-backs and 3 full-backs), eight midfielders and seven forwards (3 strikers and 4 wingers).

Your squad, on the other hand, will include three goalkeepers, eight defenders (4 centre-backs and 4 full-backs), eight midfielders and six forwards (2 strikers and 4 wingers). That way, you’ll have the traditional ‘two players for every position’ situation in play.

50+ midfielders have played for Chelsea in the Roman Abramovich era. Some contributed to our success in a good way, some… eh… not so much (Mineiro – I’ll just leave it at that).

The midfielders that you’re about to see on these lists though – gave us some moments you will simply never forget.

Where shall we start? I think a good place to start is with the midfielder that links both the defence and the attack…

The ball winner. The midfield controller. The regista.

There have been multiple different types of player to have played in the ‘defensive midfielder’ position over the years.

Here are four that epitomise that spot the best in my opinion…

MICHAEL ESSIEN

Photo Source: Getty Images

Joined – August 2005
Signed from – Lyon (£24.4m)
Appearances – 256
Goals – 25
Assists – 18

This might shock a few. But in my opinion, Michael Essien was already doing what N’Golo Kanté does today, well before people applauded Kante for doing what he can do.

Before his career was cruelly ruined by devastating knee injuries, Essien (in his prime) was the best defensive midfielder on the planet.

Physically strong, tough tackling play-style and able to play in multiple roles in both midfield and defence – ‘The Bison’ was an amazing player.

Best Moment – vs Barcelona (Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg), May 2009

It was hard deciding between his long-range bullet strike against Arsenal and his incredible volley against Barcelona in the Champions League. Both incredible goals.

In the end, I went with Barcelona. The technique, on his weaker foot, the magnitude of the match/moment… it ticked more boxes for me.

It’s just a shame that wasn’t the goal would see progress to another Champions League Final. Even though is quite clearly worthy of doing so…

Honours
Premier League – 2005-06, 09-10
FA Cup – 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012
League Cup – 2006-07
FA Community Shield – 2009
UEFA Champions League – 2011-12
Chelsea Player of the Year – 2006-07
Chelsea Goal of the Year – 2006-07 (vs Arsenal), 2008-09 (vs Barcelona)

CLAUDE MAKÉLÉLÉ

Photo Source: Express

Joined – August 2003
Signed from – Real Madrid (£16.8m)
Appearances – 216
Goals – 2
Assists – 6

“I have a fantastic watch. “And Claude is my battery. The watch runs with the battery.”

– Claudio Ranieri on Claude Makélélé

Upon joining Chelsea in Real Madrid in 2003, Claude Makélélé did something that was regarded as almost impossible in football, especially in England.

He revolutionised the role of the defensive midfielder. Before he came to England, the ‘DM’ was stereotyped by fans as someone who would simply tackle, hack players down and hoof the ball up the pitch.

From the moment he made his debut to his last game in a Chelsea shirt, the talismanic Frenchman destroyed every single myth that was associated with that role.

Makélélé was one of the first signings by the club after the Roman Abramovich takeover and proved to be one of the most influential.

Best Moment – vs Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League), May 2009

It was safe to say that Makelele was not a prolific goalscorer for Chelsea – he only managed to score two goals.

His first, a sloppy from a missed penalty against Charlton Athletic. His second? A masterpiece against Tottenham Hotspur.

I’ll let the goal do the talking for me.

Honours
Premier League – 2004-05, 05-06
FA Cup – 2007
League Cup – 2004-05, 06-07
FA Community Shield – 2005
Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year – 2006
FIFPro World XI – 2005

NEMANJA MATIĆ

Photo Source: Telegraph

Joined – August 2009 & January 2014
Signed from – Košice (£1.5m) & Benfica (£21m)
Appearances – 154
Goals – 7
Assists – 19

When Nemanja Matić first joined the club in 2009, he looked out-of-depth and thus was never given a real opportunity.

Upon returning to SW6 in 2014 from Benfica, that was definitely no longer the case. He had gone from being someone who was uncomfortable in both possession and from a defensive perspective, to one of the best ball-winning defensive midfielders in Europe.

Matić’s poise and power, in addition to his in-game intelligence and tactical awareness, enabled his attacking teammates to flourish.

Best Moment – vs Tottenham Hotspur (FA Cup Semi-Final), April 2017

Matic was another one to not score many goals in the blue of Chelsea. But when he did, you’d most definitely remember it. As Spurs fantastically found out.

What a goal, still hear it smashing off the bar and into the net to this day.

Honours
Premier League – 2014-15, 16-17
FA Cup – 2009
League Cup – 2014-15
PFA Team of the Year – 2014-15

JOHN OBI MIKEL

Photo Source: World Soccer

Joined – July 2006
Signed from – Lyn/Manchester United (£4m/£12m)
Appearances – 372
Goals – 6
Assists – 13

John Obi Mikel gave over a decade of service to the club he joined as a fresh-faced 19-year old. And when he left, he had won every single major honour that you could get.

Upon joining from Norwegian side Lyn Oslo (via Manchester United) in a surreal transfer saga, the Nigerian attacking midfielder was converted into a deep-lying playmaker under the then-current boss Jose Mourinho and it turned out to be a masterstroke.

A strong, powerful midfielder with excellent positional sense and a sure touch, Mikel was a consistent presence in the team during his time in west London.

His value to the team was always keenly felt by those who managed him and played alongside him during his 372 appearances for the Blues, and that figure puts him in the very top bracket of foreign (fourth on that particular list) players to have represented Chelsea.

Best Moment – 2012 Champions League Final (vs Bayern Munich)

Like many others who had the chance to do so, Mikel’s best moment in easily… Munich.

John was renowned for saving his best performances for the big occasion, and his highlight in a Chelsea shirt came on our greatest night of all, the 2012 Champions League Final, where alongside the legendary Frank Lampard, he produced a midfield display that was nothing short of magnificent.

Honours
Premier League – 2009-10, 14-15
FA Cup – 2007, 2009, 2012
League Cup – 2006-07
FA Community Shield – 2009
UEFA Champions League – 2011-12
UEFA Europa League – 2012-13
Chelsea Young Player of the Year – 2007, 2008

WHO IS THE NUMBER ONE DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER?

Michael Essien.

As much as Makelele revolutionised the role, in my eyes, Essien pretty much (came damn close) perfected it.

Incredible work-rate, ruthless physicality and defensive skills many defenders would immensely proud of – Michael Essien had everything you would want from someone to play in this role. In addition to all of this, Essien also possessed good technical skills, great vision, tactical intelligence and leadership qualities, not to mention a ferocious bullet-like shot from long-range. As Arsenal and Barcelona found out…

And the readers’ poll winner is:

Claude Makélélé – 56%
(Other results: Michael Essien – 40%, Nemanja Matić – 2%, John Obi Mikel – 2%)

Florentino Pérez, the President of his previous club, Real Madrid, stated that “We will not miss him, his technique is average, he lacks speed and skill, his distribution goes backwards or sideways. New players will arrive to make us forget Makelele.”

Fellow Real Madrid and France teammate, the iconic Zinedine Zidane, best summed up how costly it was to let Makelele leave after he left:

“Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”

Perez’s decision to let Makelele go turned out to be a foolish one. A very foolish one.

The all-round midfielder. The box-to-box player. The versatile player.

There are many different types of player who play in what is arguably the most commanding position on the football pitch – the central-midfield (CM) role.

These are the four best players to have played in that position during the Roman Abramovich era…

CESC FÀBREGAS

Photo Source: Goal

Joined – June 2014
Signed from – Barcelona (£30m)
Appearances – 198
Goals – 22
Assists – 57

Ohhhh, Fabregas is magic, he wears a magic hat…

Cesc Fàbregas was (still is) indeed, magic. In the four-plus years he was here at Stamford Bridge, Fabregas showed us everything from what you would want from a deep-lying playmaker. He excelled in this role.

Using his exceptional technique, ball control, vision, and passing ability to dictate the tempo of his team’s play, whilst being supported by defensive midfielders, in order to give him more space and time on the ball – Fabregas was a dream for our attack-minded players

Not to mention his incredible amount of assists too, Fabregas was absolutely a magician with the ball.

Honours
Premier League – 2014-15, 16-17
FA Cup – 2018
League Cup – 2014-15
Premier League Top Assist Provider – 2014-15

Best Moment – vs Burnley (Premier League), August 2014

Many moments come to mind of Fabregas’ time at Chelsea. The exquisite pass to Diego Costa in the incredible comeback victory away to Manchester City, the sublime lobbed goal against his former club Arsenal and possibly every other assist or free-kick goal that he had.

But the one moment that stood out from every other moment was at the very start of his Chelsea career, in his debut against Burnley.

To this day all these years later, his perfectly-timed, perfectly-weighted pass, which led to Andre Schurrle scoring, was a thing of pure beauty.

It was simply sensational.

N’GOLO KANTÉ

Photo Source: Getty Images

Joined – July 2016
Signed from – Leicester City (£32m)
Appearances – 131 (Currently)
Goals – 7 (Currently)
Assists – 7 (Currently)

“The complete midfielder.”

– Antonio Conte on N’Golo Kanté

The quote above from former manager Antonio Conte could easily sum up N’Golo Kanté… He is pretty much the complete midfielder.

A dynamic, diminutive, and hard-working player, who is known for his mind-blowing energy levels and ball-winning abilities that are simply unrivalled, Kante excels at the most simple of things you would want from a midfielder.

Incredible positional sense.
Beyond scary athleticism.
High-end football intelligence and ability to read the game.

N’Golo is also one of the most down-to-earth players you will ever come across too. He’s loved by everyone, whether you support Chelsea or not.

No matter what team Chelsea are facing or what oppositional players they are coming up against, the club always has a chance in coming out victorious if Kante is playing. Always.

Honours
Premier League – 2016-17
FA Cup – 2018
PFA Team of the Year – 2016-17
PFA Players’ Player of the Year – 2016-17
Premier League Player of the Season – 2016-17
Chelsea Player of the Year – 2017-18
London Football Awards Player of the Year – 2017
FIFA FIFPro World XI – 2018
UEFA Team of the Year – 2018

Best Moment – vs Manchester United (Premier League), October 2016

We could go on for days on his best performances (League Cup Final against Man City for example) or this knack of what feels like being in more than one position on the pitch all the time.

But if we’re looking for one stand out moment from the much-admired Frenchman, his first goal for Chelsea in the 4-0 victory Manchester United sums up perfectly how much Kante is loved and admired by everyone.

FRANK LAMPARD

Photo Source: The Times

Joined – June 2001
Signed from – West Ham United (£11m)
Appearances – 648  (Fourth on the Blues’ all-time appearance list)
Goals – 211 (All-time top goalscorer)
Assists – 150

In June 2001, Chelsea paid £11m for Frank Lampard from London rivals West Ham Utd. At first glance, he seemed to be a very risky signing for someone who was not really proven, which lead many to believe that the club paid well over the odds.

Thirteen years later – it was not just the best £11m Chelsea had ever spent, but it was the best signing the club has ever made.

Lampard was an all-round and versatile box-to-box player, who was capable of playing anywhere in midfield. Throughout his career, Lampard was deployed as an orthodox central midfielder, as an attacking midfielder, as a defensive midfielder and even as a supporting striker on the rare occasion.

A player with an incredible hard-working ethic, notable stamina and an ability to read the game, Lampard was also capable of functioning creatively and starting attacking plays after winning back possession, due to his excellent technique, vision, and passing range.

Regarded by pundits, managers, and teammates as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, Frank Lampard is the greatest player to ever play for Chelsea Football Club. No player will ever come close to him.

Honours
Premier League – 2004-05, 05-06, 09-10
FA Cup – 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012
League Cup – 2004-05, 06-07
FA Community Shield – 2005, 2009
UEFA Champions League – 2011-12
UEFA Europa League – 2012-13
FIFA Player of the Year (Silver Award) – 2005
Ballon d’Or (Silver Award) – 2005
FWA Footballer of the Year – 2005
PFA Fans’ Player of the Year – 2005
PFA Merit Award – 2015
FWA Tribute Award – 2010
Premier League Player of the Season – 2004-05
Premier League Top Assist Provider – 2004-05, 08-09, 09-10
PFA Team of the Year – 2003-04, 04-05, 05-06
FIFPro World XI – 2005
UEFA Midfield of the Year – 2008
UEFA Europa League Final Fans’ Man of the Match – 2013
FA Cup Final Man of the Match – 2007
Premier League Player of the Decade – 2001-2010
Chelsea Player of the Year – 2004, 2005, 2009

Best Moment – vs Aston Villa (Premier League), May 2013

Along with being Chelsea’s greatest ever player, Frank Lampard is also the all-time top goalscorer. 211 goals, for a midfielder, is nothing short of extraordinary.

Of those 211 goals, there were a few that stood and will do so forever.

His brace against Bolton Wanderers to secure Chelsea’s first Premier League title.
His physic-defining lob against Barcelona.
His 180-degree volley against Bayern Munich.
His emotional penalty against Liverpool.

But there can only be one goal that stood out from all the others in my opinion.

Goal 203, vs Aston Villa. The goal that broke Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 goals and made Lampard the all-time goalscorer of Chelsea Football Club.

What made it sweeter? It was the most typical Frank Lampard goal as well.

RAMIRES

Photo Source: The Times

Joined – August 2010
Signed from – Benfica (£18m)
Appearances – 251
Goals – 34
Assists – 25

Ramires was the sort of player that might not be the first player on the proverbial, but would always be on it nonetheless.

Playing predominately in central or on the right-hand side midfield, the Brazilian was known for his agility, tenacity, hard work ethic, and stamina – especially as he was more than capable of supporting his teammates in both ends of the pitch.

Admired and appreciated by managers, teammates and fans – Ramires could do a hell of a lot more than he was stereotyped to be able to do.

Honours
Premier League – 2014-15
FA Cup – 2012
League Cup – 2014-15
UEFA Champions League – 2011-12
UEFA Europa League – 2012-13
Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year – 2011-12

Best Moment – vs Barcelona (Champions League Semi-Final, 2nd Leg), April 2012

Barcelona away, 2012. The night where miracles were started to become a normal thing for Chelsea.

2-0 down, losing on aggregate, down to ten men… it appeared that all hope Chelsea had of reaching their second Champions League Final, was gone.

Then something out of nowhere happened. A rare counter-attack, which lead to Ramires producing a sublime first-time lob over Victor Valdes after being released by Frank Lampard via an impeccable chipped through-ball.

The goal, the pass, the counter-attack… everything was a thing of beauty.

WHO IS THE NUMBER ONE CENTRAL MIDFIELDER?

Frank Lampard.

There was only ever going to be one choice, the biggest no-brainer in this entire feature series for me.

He will forever be unrivalled, unmatched and never will be replaced. Lampard is truly one of a kind.

And the readers’ poll winner is:

Frank Lampard – 89%
(Other results: N’Golo Kanté – 8%, Ramires – 2%, Cesc Fàbregas – 1%)

Just like me, there was no other choice for the readers too. Frank Lampard simply had it all and then some.

The number 10. The advanced playmaker. The creative genius.

The attacking midfielder (AM) has many roles and many ways of being described.

One thing is for certain when it comes to all AM’s, they are more often than the spark for all goals being scored.

Here are four very good examples of that…

MICHAEL BALLACK

Photo Source: Getty Images

Joined – July 2006
Signed from – Bayern Munich (Free)
Appearances – 167
Goals – 25
Assists – 24

Michael Ballack was not your typical attacking midfielder but more of an explosive, final-third, midfield machine. Goals, aggression, efficient, commanding, dominant… Ballack exuded authority and displayed it in such a lethal way.

On a technical level, the much-decorated German was a powerhouse.

A physically strong, aggressive player that showed excellent ball skills and distribution, his technical expertise and intelligence of his game was another level to many.

The German was without a shadow of a doubt one of the most complete and versatile midfielders of his generation.

Honours
Premier League – 2009-10
FA Cup – 2009, 2010
League Cup – 2006-07
FA Community Shield – 2009

Best Moment – vs Manchester United (Premier League), April 2008

This game was Ballack’s game. He did everything. If you ever want to know/justify why Ballack was signed from Bayern Munich, this game will give you the definitive answer as to why.

He was simply magnificent.

JOE COLE

Photo Source: Guardian

Joined – August 2003
Signed from – West Ham United (£6.6m)
Appearances – 280
Goals – 40
Assists – 42

“He has the skills of a Brazilian.”

– The legendary Pelé on Joe Cole

Arguably the most naturally gifted player to ever play for Chelsea, Joe could do and did things that were simply unexplainable.

Technically gifted and capable of playing in several offensive midfield positions, (as a ‘number 10’, a winger or a support striker even), Joe had it all. When thinking of his dribbling skills, vision and passing… from a creative perspective – Cole was levels above that you couldn’t even dream of.

All of this, for just £6.6m… that’s almost criminal. In today’s market, would you have to spend £100m+ to get someone as good as Joe.

£100m+… minimum.

Honours
Premier League – 2004-05, 05-06, 09-10
FA Cup – 2007, 2010
League Cup – 2004-05
FA Community Shield – 2005
PFA Team of the Year – 2005-06
Chelsea Player of the Year – 2007-08

Best Moment – vs Manchester United (Premier League), April 2006

I don’t have enough words to do justice and describe the audacious piece of skill and goal here.

Just watch.

JUAN MATA

Photo Source: Telegraph

Joined – August 2011
Signed from – Valencia (£23.5m)
Appearances – 135
Goals – 32
Assists – 58

For Juan Mata to have had 90 goal contributions (32 goals, 58 assists) in just 135 games for the club is mind-blowingly staggering.

Someone who left the club far too early, in my opinion, Mata showcased in just over two years what many players would take ten to do the same as him.

Whilst not being blessed with pace, his footballing brain more than made up for that.

Agility.
Control.
Technique.
Passion.
Vision.
Free-kick specialist.
Assist-making machine.

If Cesc Fabregas was known for being a magician at Chelsea, then Juan Mata was a sorcerer.

Honours
Premier League – 2014-15, 16-17
FA Cup – 2018
League Cup – 2014-15
Premier League Top Assist Provider – 2014-15

Best Moment – vs Burnley (Premier League), August 2014

OSCAR

Photo Source: Independent

Joined – July 2012
Signed from – Internacional (£19.5m)
Appearances – 203
Goals – 38
Assists – 37

Another one who left Chelsea far too early, Oscar could play pretty much anywhere in midfield with absolute ease. But where he was at his most dangerous was in the final third of the pitch.

As an offensive playmaker, Oscar is very fluid and creative, showing excellent and having great pass precision. Whilst also being a superb dribbler, this allowed the Brazilian in his time at the club to be deployed in all three attack-minded positions behind the central striker – in the centre or on either flank.

He was simply brilliant from an attacking perspective.

Honours
Premier League – 2014-15, 16-17
FA Cup – 2018
League Cup – 2014-15
Premier League Top Assist Provider – 2014-15

Best Moment – vs Juventus (Champions League, Group Stage), September 2012

One of the best goals I’ve ever seen at Stamford Bridge. Not a bad way to open your account, no?

WHO IS THE NUMBER ONE ATTACKING MIDFIELDER?

Joe Cole.

All of the four players mentioned were fantastic for Chelsea Football Club in their very own unique way. But for me, Joe Cole was something else.

What he could do with the ball at his feet is beyond words. He was that good.

And the readers’ poll winner is:

Michael Ballack – 39%
(Other results: Juan Mata – 30%, Joe Cole – 28%, Oscar – 3%)

Easily the closest poll out them all.

Whilst Joe Cole and Juan Mata ran him close (and definitely have more than a shout of being justified in being picked, Michael Ballack ended being your choice. Not a bad one either.

 THE 25-MAN SQUAD & STARTING LINE-UP

We’re now at the point where we starting to see variety between my squad and the readers.

For my 3-man midfield, I decided to mix it up a little bit. Frank Lampard was an absolute given, no brainer. As for the other 2 spots, I went a little bit different. I decided to have a midfield consisting of one all-rounder, one that was explosive/combative (Michael Essien) and the final one being a deep-lying playmaker (Cesc Fabregas). This, for me, ticks all the boxes in terms of what would you want from your midfield.

Goals.
Creativity.
Vision.
Technique.
Power.

A dream midfield.

MY personal 25-man squad and starting line-up (so far)

In terms of substitutes and squad members, I decided to go with having N’Golo Kante, Joe Cole and Juan Mata having a seat on the bench, with the Claude Makelele and Michael Ballack having to do with being making up numbers in the squad.

The midfield section of this series was always going to be the hardest to pick for me. So many incredible players involved – no matter who goes where.

YOUR personal 25-man squad and starting line-up (so far)

As for the readers…

Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Michael Ballack make up your go-to midfield trio in the starting line-up.

When it came to subs and squad members – going solely by the percentage numbers from the polls – Michael Essien and Juan Mata would go on the bench, with John Obi Mikel and N’Golo Kante providing valuable cover in the squad.

Like I said, the midfield HARD WAS TO DECIDE! Will be very interesting to see the readers’ feedback on this part of the series, that’s for certain.

Join me tomorrow for part four, as I reveal who earned the three spots – Left-Winger, Right-Winger, Striker – of the devastating forward line in our squads.

• Part 1Intro/The Goalkeepers
• Part 2 – The Defenders
• Part 4 – The Forwards
• Part 5 – The Squad/Starting Line-Up & The Manager

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