The £107m deadline day signing already looks comfortable in Chelsea’s midfield but 1-1 draw at West Ham makes it clear that some of Graham Potter’s other recent arrivals have plenty of work to do
For 25 dazzling minutes Chelsea looked every bit the team that had seen more than £500m of investment in the past two transfer windows. With five of the available six January arrivals and one more from the summer in the starting XI, Graham Potter’s team appeared utterly dominant and, were it not for two slender offside calls, should have been clear of sight.
Joao Felix, back from the three-game ban earned on his debut, was full of zest. Benoit Badiashile looked entirely unruffled at centre back. Mykhaylo Mudryk and Noni Madueke showed promising early signs on the flanks.
And, in the middle, Enzo Fernandez dictated the tempo to the extent that midway through the opening half the possession stats hovered around 80% for the visitors.
But then West Ham woke up and what looked like the most comfortable of outings for Chelsea, after Fernandez sent in a delicious through ball for Felix to convert in the 16th minute, became something rather different.
David Moyes’ team began to press and prey, in particular, on the struggling Marc Cucurella. The left back, signed last summer from Brighton, was clearly targeted by the combination of Jarrod Bowen and Vladimir Coufal. And such persistence led to the equaliser.
Cucurella presently looks a shadow of the player who impressed under Potter at Brighton. His confidence has been zapped, the £55m price tag perhaps weighing heavily. And you did not have to strain too hard to hear the Chelsea fans cheering as Ben Chilwell, too often sidelined by injury since coming to Stamford Bridge 18 months ago, replaced Cucurella midway through the second period.
Mostly this was a reminder that it is going to take time for so many new faces to gel.
Chelsea continued to dominate possession even if Mudryk and Madueke faded. And Fernandez, the costliest addition of all, stood out for his supreme efficiency.
These remain very, very early days for the British record £107m arrival from Benfica. Yet he already looks settled, entirely unfazed by the high-octane environment that so often overwhelms new recruits.
The highlight was undoubtedly the perfectly-weighted lofted pass towards Felix for the goal but his efficiency is striking.
Almost everything is done with the minimal fuss and he looks like a midfielder’s midfielder. The sort who grizzled veterans such as Roy Keane and Graeme Souness will purr about from television studios.
While Mudryk and Madueke, to give two of the more pertinent examples, flit in and out of games and will undoubtedly go on to capture headlines for solitary pieces of magic down the road, for Chelsea to succeed Fernandez may end up being the most important piece of all.
Fernandez receives the ball, takes a touch and swiftly moves it on. He is scarcely caught out defensively. And he seems more than happy to do the dirty work required for players in front of him to thrive. Just ask Lionel Messi.