Premier League

Analysing escape routes Drinkwater can take to end Chelsea exile

 • by Mark Thompson
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Last August Danny Drinkwater had a decision to make about his future at Chelsea: remain or leave. It wasn’t an easy choice.

If he remained he would be financially secure yet underappreciated. If he opted to leave, he would be accepting uncertainty, embracing the wild west of the transfer market.

Drinkwater chose to remain…

“He knows very well he has never played because, in my opinion, he is not suitable to my system, to my way of playing,” Sarri explained this week. “I told him everything in August. He appreciated it, but he decided to remain, and so he knew very well the situation.”

After a year with no competitive game-time, Drinkwater may well decide this summer that enough is enough and he’d be better off elsewhere. But where could he go?

The interesting thing about Drinkwater is that he’s played for two very different teams recently, not only in quality but in style as well.

At Leicester, over a third of his pass attempts were forwards (36.5 per cent). You can see, in his passing sonar, the Foxes’ direct attacking nature.

At Chelsea, who he joined in the summer of 2017, this was unsurprisingly different.

Far fewer of his passes were forwards, instead a high volume of them were going sideways. His passing accuracy jumped from 77 per cent to 86 per cent as a result.

This may look like Drinkwater went from being a direct, forward-thinking passer to possession maintainer. But compared to the rest of the Leicester side from the 2016/17 campaign, the central midfielder was a safe harbour.

Drinkwater’s 77 per cent passing success rate was seven per cent higher than Leicester City as a whole, however, the proportion of his passes that went forward was seven per cent less than the team’s.

And at Chelsea last season, he was only slightly safer than the rest of the team, who completed 84 per cent of their passes, and was only marginally less direct with his passes.

This was all while playing in similar positions at the two clubs. So Drinkwater didn’t really excel in any role at Chelsea and it’s not surprising that Sarri believes there’s no place for the midfielder in his system.

What does this mean for Drinkwater, then? The above highlights he is relatively safe presence on the ball who, at Leicester, was technically good enough to set up attacks with long passes to Jamie Vardy. However, he isn’t suited to playing as a midfield metronome for a team higher up the table.

At both Leicester and Chelsea, Drinkwater contributed a fair amount defensively, in the top half of midfielders for tackle and interception volume. So any team that needs a midtable-to-upper-midtable passer and defensively capable midfielder should be interested.

If he hasn’t made it at Chelsea, chances are he won’t at any of the other top six clubs – although Tottenham do desperately need midfielders. Wolverhampton Wanderers have incredible talent in his position already, so that’s them crossed off the list too.

Could he then, with tail tucked firmly between his legs, end up back at Leicester?

Perhaps. Wilfried Ndidi is a far better defensive option and Youri Tielemans is a far better option on the ball, although the likelihood of him remaining at the King Power next season is as slim as the Belgian is young and making an impact week in, week out.

Drinkwater might not quite be creative enough to earn a starting spot in the current set-up but he wouldn’t be far off.

Happily for the Englishman, though, there’ll be a several of mid-table sides who he would be well suited for and who would, for the right price, likely be interested.

As well as Wolves and Leicester, Bournemouth, West Ham, Everton, and even Crystal Palace all have claims to that league table no-man’s land.

Drinkwater, it seems, will have plenty of options come the summer. He just needs to take one of them… although, as we now know, leaving can be far harder than imagined.

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