Since Frank Lampard’s arrival at Chelsea last July, Blues fans knew that things were going to change under his management. Maurizio Sarri departed the club just a month before, leaving Lampard with a lot of players that were mainstays in the Italian’s matchday squads. As the season unfolded and goals were persistently conceded, the Chelsea head coach clamoured for a world-class, experienced defender like Thiago Silva to change his backline.
Lampard’s entrance meant a change of philosophy at the club – the injection of youth, a more exciting brand of football, whilst also keeping some form of experience in the side. His hope was that players like Antonio Rudiger and captain Cesar Azpilicueta would instill calm and translate their experience to a youthful Blues outfit.
2019/20: Defensive Discord
As last season progressed, Chelsea fans were subjected to watching some absolutely farcical defending at times and despite Frank’s best attempts to chop and change the backline to make it as strong as possible, it was clear something was missing. Was it the lack of a strong mentality? Was it a lack of experience? I don’t think even Frank could put his finger on it.
Did Chelsea just need that extra senior figure at the back to calm everybody down and give them a confidence boost when they needed it most? Perhaps that was the missing piece of the Frank Lampard defensive puzzle. But who could plug this gap?
Despite going on to make the top four last season, the Blues conceded 54 league goals, the same as 15th placed Brighton and more than Burnley and Crystal Palace. It seemed Frank was at a loss as to how to best fix the defence.
Eventually, the summer transfer window opened and any Chelsea fan will tell you the defence was one of the priorities to fix coming into the new season and we know that Frank had a picture in his mind of exactly who he wanted and, unlike a few Blues managers in the past, his decisions were backed by the club’s hierachy and soon enough, he got exactly who he had asked for.
Enter O Monstro, Thiago Silva.
For all the flair of the attacking signings of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner or Hakim Ziyech, it is perhaps the Brazilian who is the most crucial addition to a team with designs on the summit of European club football.
Thiago Silva: Chelsea’s Brilliant Brazilian
A veteran at 36, many pundits and critics pointed to Thiago Silva’s age when he joined Chelsea. Purporting that it would hamper his adaptation to a league famed for his pace and physicality, the former AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain player who was a recent UEFA Champions League finalist no less, has proven many wrong over his first few games in Blue.
“Ohhhh, Thiago Silva!” could be seen being shouted by Reece James during the celebrations after Silva scored his first goal for the club and Chelsea’s third of the night when the Blues beat Sheffield United 4-1 at the Bridge a fortnight ago. James had all the reason to shout his name.
The Brazilian stalwart has been a revelation for the side and it could be argued that Silva is one of the best free signings Chelsea have made in a long time, potentially ever. Before the club were linked with him, the reports emerged of potential fees of £50m+ being spent on someone like Jose Maria Gimenez of Atletico Madrid or Milan Skriniar of Inter Milan. These were typical of a Chelsea side that were evidently keen to splash the cash, having shelled out lavish fees on Havertz, Werner, Chilwell and Ziyech.
Given Silva’s early showings, fans will be mightily relieved that the Blues didn’t spend that kind of money. Not only this, signing such a proven winner on a free transfer is exactly the kind of shrewd business characteristic of early Chelsea years under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. Signing a player like Thiago Silva for no fee evokes memories of Petr Cech for just £7m from Rennes or a swap deal for Ashley Cole for £5m and William Gallas.
The mark of a world class player is their ability to fit in seamlessly wherever they ply their trade. And Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma as the starting centre back pairing have looked sensational so far this campaign. Although you could point to one mishap against West Brom and the fact that Chelsea haven’t played many top teams in the league so far, Silva has nonetheless lent his experience greatly to a defensive outfit that looks transformed.
The run of five clean sheets that the defence obtained until the game against Sheffield United was not something anybody expected, but it showed significant. Boasting just one away clean sheet in the league last season, the addition of Silva has meant the back four look unlike anything Chelsea fans have seen in a long time.
With Edouard Mendy, who has also looked so comfortable since becoming Lampard’s number one keeper, behind Silva and Zouma, the defensive confidence is unrecognisable compared to last season.
A man that has won trophies wherever he has played, many thought that the Premier League would be too much for Silva, but so far he has shown that he can handle almost anything that comes his way.
Playing for Paris St Germain for eight years prior to joining the Blues, his French has proven to be an overlooked asset of his game. He can communicate effectively with the other French speakers in defense: Kurt Zouma, Edouard Mendy, N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta, the latter spending three years in France with Marseille. Regarding communication, this is a huge bonus for a defense that looked short of coordination and understanding last season.
In addition, the fact that Frank has given Silva captain duties when Jorginho and Azpilicueta aren’t on the pitch shows the trust that he has in him. Despite his inability to speak English, this makes the decision to give him the occasional captaincy even more impressive.
Silva’s arrival at Chelsea has been a breath of fresh air given the difference he has made not just for the defense, but for the team as a whole. Not since Antonio Conte’s title winning campaign of 2016/17 has a Chelsea defense looked so assured and resolute, stringing together multiple clean sheets.
The likes of Christensen, Tomori and Rudiger cannot get a game at the minute. If Silva and Zouma continue to perform the way they’ve started the season, this partnership could be one of the most irreplaceable Chelsea has seen in a long time.
In a season where no clear favourite has emerged for the Premier League title and where teams are struggling to keep the ball out of their own net, Thiago Silva may yet prove to be the gold standard amongst all the signings Chelsea have made this season.
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Written by Luka Foley (@UOGLuka)
Edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)