When football fans recall the incredible miracle of Leicester’s Premier League title win in 2015-16, most of them talk abo how N’Golo Kante was the key for the Foxes that season and very few tend to Daniel Drinkwater’s name with similar appreciation. However, the truth is that while Kante excelled at stopping opponents in their tracks, Drinkwater was crucial in launching Leicester’s own attacks.
Many of the goals Vardy scored last season started with a pass from the former Manchester United academy graduate. From next game week onwards, we will see the pair of Premier League winners reunited in a slightly different shade of blue. Chelsea, who had already acquired Kante’s services last summer, signed Drinkwater for about £40 million on this summer transfer deadline day.
I am sure the thought that went into signing Drinkwater was far more complicated than just “let’s play them together, and they will win us another league title”. Let us look at some of Drinkwater’s stats over the last couple of years, especially 2015-16, and see what the key strengths that Chelsea might have considered while signing Drinkwater.
Chelsea’s Depleted Midfield
Chelsea were able to cruise through the league with a threadbare squad last season, as they were not competing in Europe and were knocked out early in the League Cup. Nowhere was the squad thinner than in their midfield. They have almost unparalleled riches in the attack, but in midfield, Kante, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas were enough to deal with the workload last season.
However, this season was always going to be different. Chelsea must expect to play 50-55 competitive matches at the least, something which prompted them to sign Tiemoué Bakayoko from AS Monaco earlier this transfer window. But, just as Conte would have assumed that he had enough midfielders, Jose Mourinho came calling for Matic, and the Chelsea boss was left in a situation like last season. To make it worse, Bakayoko was recovering from an injury sustained in Ligue 1.
Perhaps, the biggest attribute that Daniel Drinkwater brings to the Chelsea squad is that he is a midfielder. He formed a formidable partnership with their current midfield star Kante in 2015-16 is surely a bonus.
Drinkwater is one of the most balanced midfielders in the Premier League. He is not exceptional in either creativity, passing or tackling, but is quite good in all aspects of a midfielder’s duties. Last season, he put in 60.2 passes per appearance with an accuracy of 77.4%. The accuracy suffered due to the tactical requirement of long-balls from Drinkwater, as he attempted 235 long-ball passes last season, 136 of them inaccurate. However, his shorter distance passing is quite accurate.
Drinkwater is an attack-minded player, at least when compared with Kante, as he put in 28 penalty area touches and 7 shots from inside the box last season. In the title-winning season, these numbers were 45 and 9 respectively. With talented attackers in front of him, he is also able to create a lot of shots – 44 chances in 2015-16, 8 of them big chances and 7 assists – reflect this.
He is also no mug when trying to breakup play. When Kante was busy harassing opponents in 2015-16, Drinkwater was not a bystander. In addition to Kante’s 233 tackles at 75% success rate, he also put in 159 tackles with a 66% success rate. He also reacted quickly to opponent actions as highlighted by a total of 144 clearances, blocks, and interceptions.
Partnership with N’Golo Kante Reinstated
This partnership might not have been the only reason for Drinkwater’s signing, but it certainly must have been a factor to be considered. Stats show that across attributes both Drinkwater and Kante regressed a bit in 2016-17, as compared to 2015-16. The two understand each other’s game and play really well together.
While Drinkwater will definitely be missed in Leicester, this move is certainly an upward move for him. It is a signing that gives strength to Chelsea’s depleted midfield and brings two old partners together. It is going to be difficult for opponents to overcome this midfield partnership this season.