Have Chelsea noticed they barely have any midfielders? Brighton have. Just cough up for Caicedo…

Ian Watson
Moises Caicedo in action for Brighton against Chelsea.
Moises Caicedo in action for Brighton against Chelsea.

Chelsea are bargaining with Brighton from a p*ss-weak position. It is inevitable that they will have to pay the full ask for Moises Caicedo. Do it now and crack on…

Chelsea have hardly been a beacon of efficiency or even competency over the last year. But even they can’t fail to notice the gaping void where their midfield should be.

Sure, they have midfielders. Mauricio Pochettino took six to the United States this week, including one of the most expensive ever. Enzo Fernandez boarded the plane with Conor Gallagher, as well as youngsters Carney Chukwuemeka, Andrey Santos, Cesare Casadei and Lewis Hall, who despite playing for much of his fledgling senior career towards the left side of Chelsea’s defence considers central midfield the strongest of his many positions. Chukwuemeka, Santos, Casadei and Hall have 10 Premier League starts between them, and seven of those were in defence.

The inexperience and youth among Chelsea’s midfield options won’t perturb Pochettino too much while Chelsea are preparing for the Premier League season. But, three weeks from the big kick-off, the Blues are getting worryingly close to having their soft centre exposed when business time begins.

Fernandez and Gallagher are the only senior duo available to the new manager – and there’s a reasonable chance the academy graduate will be sold. It’s a far cry from the start of the year, since when Chelsea have moved on Jorginho, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Chelsea had different reasons, some more valid than others, for moving on each of that quintet and, as refits go, they have completed the first half of the job succinctly. Now, though, is the time to crack on with furnishing Pochettino with a midfield capable for competing at the level the new boss demands.

If Pochettino is to stick with his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1, then Chelsea desperately need a partner for Fernandez, especially if Gallagher is up for grabs. Fortunately, it just happens that the perfect foil for their record signing is keen to join them.

Moises Caicedo wants to move to Chelsea, just as he wanted to join Arsenal in January. The Ecuadorian is ready to take the next step in his career and he regards Chelsea as a progressive move from Brighton, despite what the league table might suggest.

The only obstacle between Chelsea and a fearsome first-choice midfield pairing is Brighton. Or rather, Chelsea’s reluctance to meet Brighton’s asking price.

The Seagulls have surveyed the landscape and, not unreasonably, decided that if Declan Rice is worth £100million, then so is Caicedo. The 21-year-old is under contract for three more years and Brighton have no need to sell. So, until their demands are met, why should they?

Chelsea’s bargaining position is weakened further by their willingness to pay nine figures for Fernandez in January. Then, the Blues attempted to play hard ball but Benfica were more-than-worthy opponents. When deadline day arrived, Todd Boehly had little choice but to stump up the full asking price. Brighton are shrewd operators. Tony Bloom, with Boehly’s balls in his hand yet again, will squeeze just as hard.

It is inevitable. And now really would be the wrong time for Boehly to suddenly turn thrifty, even if Chelsea are trying to be savvier in their negotiations. If the Blues are offering Brighton £80million plus add-ons, a bid doomed to fail, they should stop faffing about for the sake of (in Chelsea’s terms) a few quid and get the deal done. Brighton won’t be motivated to offer a discount as the deadline creeps closer. Quite the opposite.

Caicedo and Fernandez would compliment each other perfectly. Since the latter arrived in January, he’s had to play a deeper role because, as Frank Lampard admitted, he was “the most natural No 6 in a midfield that doesn’t have many natural No 6s”. Right now, it has even fewer. The Blues have forked out a fortune to build their team around Fernandez but for him to thrive, they really must go the extra mile to recruit a partner who would dovetail perfectly with the Argentinian and allow him the freedom to pull strings closer to the opposition box.

Even then, they might need more midfield reinforcements. With no European obligations, Pochettino may rely on his youngsters for cover, but he remains short of a natural holder to stand in for Caicedo.

Pochettino is reeling from the blow of losing Wesley Fofana for the foreseeable and, apparently, Chelsea’s instinctive reaction is to scour the market for replacements, with Marc Guehi a possible option. But, while they are hardly flush for centre-backs, they are better equipped at the heart of their defence than in the middle of midfield.

The Fofana blow caught Chelsea on the hop. But they can’t claim to have been blindsided by the lack of Pochettino’s midfield options. None of the departures came as a shock. The only surprise is their lack of haste in addressing their glaring weakness.

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