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Talking Tactics

How Fernandez will unlock Chelsea's attacking potential

Adrian Clarke 1 Feb 2023
PL2223 Talking Tactics Chelsea Enzo Fernandez

Adrian Clarke explains what the World Cup winner will bring to the Blues' midfield

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players in the Premier League.

Enzo Fernandez (CHE)

It has been a fairytale six-month rise for Fernandez, whom Chelsea have bought for a British-record transfer fee, according to widespread media reports.

The 22-year-old central midfielder made his Benfica debut only in August, after joining them from River Plate.

Since then, Fernandez has made his full Argentina debut, played a starring role in the UEFA Champions League and helped his country win the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Fernandez's first appearance in Qatar came only in Argentina's third group match, yet he was named young player of the tournament.

Now he will be expected to lead Chelsea out of their mid-table doldrums.

Fernandez loves to get on the ball and dictate matches. He is a good fit to replace Jorginho, who joined Arsenal this week.

During his time with Benfica, no other midfielder in Portugal could match Fernandez's 92.8 accurate passes per 90 minutes.

Prompting at the base of Graham Potter’s midfield, he will also look to provide a stream of long diagonal passes towards the flanks.

He did this to great effect in the World Cup final against France, regularly picking out Angel Di Maria.

In the Primeira Liga he averaged a division-high 10.4 accurate long passes per 90 for Benfica.

During his debut UEFA Champions League (UCL) group stage, Fernandez was second only to Toni Kroos for successful long passes.

UCL's best long passers 2022/23
Player Most accurate long passes
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) 48
Enzo Fernandez (Benfica) 32
Josip Misic (Dinamo Zagreb) 29
Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge) 28
Rodri (Man City) 25

When Chelsea's attacking full-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell return to full fitness they will benefit greatly from Fernandez's tremendous passing range.

Mykhailo Mudryk will also relish playing with his fellow January recruit, racing on to his forward passes and using his pace to run in behind opposition full-backs.

That combination will certainly stretch Premier League defences.

All-round versatility

Potter likes to work with versatile players and Fernandez certainly fits that mould.

He can sit in front of the back four but will also squeeze up to regain possession.

In the World Cup final, he showed this combative feature, attempting 10 tackles during the match.

Fernandez, Argentina
Enzo Fernandez is combative, making 10 tackles in the World Cup final

Fernandez is also comfortable travelling with the ball at his feet and can break the lines with a dribble or pass.

Only two players in the Portuguese top flight have averaged more ball carries this term.

Primeira Liga most ball carries 22/23
Player Ball carries/90
Matheus Reis (Sporting) 23
Goncalo Inacio (Sporting) 22
Enzo Fernandez (Benfica) 21
Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica) 19
David Neres (Benfica) 19

Chelsea have been impressive in keeping the ball this season. Their average of 58.2 per cent possession has been bettered only by Manchester City's 65.4 per cent and Liverpool's 59.4 per cent.

Their difficulty has been converting that dominance into clear-cut chances.

Chelsea's PL attacking stats 22/23
Stats Total PL rank
Possession 58.2% 3rd
Expected Goals 24.2 13th
Goals 22 13th
Expected Goals Against 26.8 10th
Goals conceded 21 4th

Fernandez will be expected to lay a better platform for the team from the middle third.

His distribution can unlock the potential of Chelsea's attacking threats.

And, as he showed with a sumptuous curling finish against Netherlands in the World Cup quarter-final, he can produce match-changing moments with shots of his own too.

Out of possession, he is hard-working, aggressive and mobile.

Chelsea have signed a quality player. While he has limited experience at the highest level, if he continues to develop under Potter, Fernandez has the potential to become one of the best all-round midfielders in the world.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Ouattara can add creative flair to Cherries
Part 2: Why Guardiola is reshaping his defence without Cancelo
Part 4: How Dyche's direct approach can guide Everton to safety
Part 5: McKennie can form a perfect pairing with Adams

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