Chelsea Player Focus – Michael Essien

Often considered as the heartbeat of the Chelsea side, Michael Essien’s pace and power are key components in a midfield that oozes class. The 27-year-old is also versatile – largely down to the balance between his athleticism and his comfort when in possession of the ball. With his manager Carlo Ancelotti often switching between a diamond formation and an attacking 4-3-3 system, Essien remains an important figure within the core of the team, whether it be at the defensive end of the diamond or part of a midfield trio.

Essien was signed by former manager Jose Mourinho as the natural successor to Claude Makelele in the holding role of Chelsea’s midfield, and when Makelele was replaced by Essien in the 2-0 win over Sunderland during the 2005/06 season, fans saw the passing of the torch in that defensive midfield berth from the master to the apprentice.

In the intervening years, Essien has proved himself a far more complete player than his predecessor. Despite excelling in a defensive role for both club and country, Essien is also capable of providing an attacking threat. He boasts a scoring ratio of almost one goal in five for Ghana and whilst his Chelsea record may be more modest, Essien’s goals in a blue shirt have proven crucial. No goal has been more critical than his last minute winner against Valencia in the 2006/07 Champions League quarter-final second-leg at the Mestalla .Perhaps even more memorable was his spectacular equaliser against rivals Arsenal- a strike voted goal of the season by Chelsea fans, or the left-footed volley which took them to within a minute of the 2008/09 Champions League final against Barcelona.

Having signed a two-year extension to his contract in June, Essien will remain a key player to Chelsea’s challenge for honours both domestically and on European horizons. He is vastly experienced at both Premier League level and in the Champions League, and having Essien available for selection on a regular basis would eclipse any new signing Chelsea make this summer- including the incoming Ramires. Known for his indefatigable stamina and rigid discipline to the system, should the Brazilian midfielder join the current Premier League champions it may allow Essien to shake off the defensive shackles, enabling him to get forward more often.

The midfielder will be hoping for an improvement on last term’s 14 league appearances this time round having been injured in January during the African Cup of Nations. Consequently, Essien missed Ghana’s World Cup campaign in addition to the second half of last season through injury. Thankfully his recovery means he has featured in all of Chelsea’s pre-season games thus far as he strives to be fit for the start of the season. Despite Chelsea succumbing to a 2-1 defeat to Hamburg, Wednesday evening saw him take another step towards the Chelsea starting line-up in their F.A. Community Shield opener against Manchester United. Breaking from midfield, his unselfishness provided Lampard with a simple tap-in. Should Essien prove his fitness ahead of the Blues’ first Premier League game, expect to see the former Lyon man ready for battle with West Bromwich Albion on August 14.

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