Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko has become a forgotten man at the club since his unsuccessful 2017/18 season. The Frenchman spent the following campaign on loan at Italian side AC Milan in order to rejuvenate his career, and looks likely to play a part in his parent club’s future, so what can he offer Chelsea this season?
Bakayoko was signed by Chelsea in the summer of 2017 after he impressed in AS Monaco’s midfield in a season in which the French club won Ligue 1 for the first time in 17 years and reached the UEFA Champions League semi-final, humbling Manchester City along the way.
Expectations at Stamford Bridge were high, but Bakayoko failed to reach the standard required and fans had lost patience with the youngster. A performance to forget at Vicarage Road in Chelsea’s 4-1 defeat to Watford in February 2018 was the final straw for Bakayoko, who was shipped out on loan the following season.
At Milan, the 24-year-old featured in 31 Serie A games as he helped the Rossoneri to a 5th-placed finish. Bakayoko was predominantly deployed in the centre of a midfield three, and showed glimpses of his Monaco-esque excellence.
Comparing Bakayoko’s Premier League and Serie A performances, he made 2.3 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game in the latter, compared to 2.2 and 1.3 respectively in the former. Only a slight increase in his defensive output, but an increase nonetheless.
These figures become even more impressive when compared with other midfielders at Chelsea and Milan. Only Lucas Biglia can boast better tackle numbers at either club than Bakayoko, and the same is true about Jorginho regarding interceptions – proving, as an overall package, Bakayoko was better defensively than any other midfielder at Chelsea or Milan last season.
With Frank Lampard’s seemingly immanent appointment as Chelsea manager, it is unclear what formation or system the club legend would demand, due to his flexibility in that department last season at Derby County. The highly talked about 4-2-3-1 is a possibility, and Bakayoko’s defensive numbers show he could be a useful option in the midfield double pivot.
The Frenchman’s pass accuracy was also marginally up from his time in England, with an 86.6% success rate in Serie A last season compared to 86.2% in the Premier League. However, Bakayoko completed more passes per game in Italy, illustrating how impressive the increase was.
Being able to pass the ball with precision and accuracy is vital in England’s top tier, particularly at a ‘Big Six’ club in Chelsea, so Bakayoko’s improved passing ability would be a useful tool. Lampard prefers a pass dominant system – and with the quantity of opposition who drop deep when the Blues are on the ball – Chelsea fans will be hopeful Bakayoko’s passing will be equally as good this season, or perhaps even better.
At Monaco, the returning loanee was best known for his quality dribbling and ability to drive with the ball through midfield to get his team on the front foot. He has always been a fantastic ball carrier, and that department of his game reached another level in Italy.
Bakayoko completed two dribbles per game last season, more than any other midfielder at Chelsea or Milan, and is the highest figure he has achieved in any competition in his entire professional career.
It was an element of the midfielder’s game that failed to live up to expectations in the 2017/18 season. Due to dribbling being perhaps his best attribute, Bakayoko inevitably struggles to perform at his usual level if his ball carrying ability is slightly off. Despite the substandard performances at Chelsea, he has proved he is still a capable dribbler, and has exceeded his own high standard.
Because he was tasked with being the deepest midfielder at Milan, Bakayoko’s offensive numbers left something to be desired. Although his 0.8 key passes per game looks underwhelming, it was only equalled by his UEFA Champions League campaign with the Blues, proving how complete of a player he was last campaign.
Chelsea have elite creators at their disposal, so the pressure on Bakayoko to be a key link between midfield and attack with his passing would be low. As long as Willian, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic perform to their usual creative level, Bakayoko will be given the license to focus on his two best attributes – defending and dribbling.
After watching Jorginho for a season, many Chelsea fans have come around to the idea of deep midfielders not having to provide many goals and assists, so Bakayoko’s one of each last season should not be of too much concern to the Stamford Bridge fan base.
Ligue 1 and Serie A are less demanding leagues than the Premier League. The argument of Bakayoko only performing in lower quality and slower paced divisions is relevant, but any player who performed as well as the Frenchman did at Milan deserves a second chance.
Despite an infamous first season at Chelsea, the signs of Bakayoko being a Premier League quality midfielder are still there. His defensive output and dribbling ability would be a welcomed addition to the future Chelsea manager’s roster, and if deployed in the correct role, the club should reap the rewards.
Written by Liam Wilson.