Moisés Caicedo’s form at the Copa América is good news for Chelsea – Football News

Moisés Caicedo’s form at the Copa América is good news for Chelsea

The pressure was on Moisés Caicedo to make an immediate impact following his big-money move last summer. Chelsea were hellbent on signing the midfielder and finally landed their man in August for a British record fee of £115m. Given the constant uncertainty at the club, though, a seamless transition from Brighton to the Blues was always going to be easier said than done.

To say Caicedo struggled in his opening months would be an understatement. As Christmas approached, Chelsea were in the bottom half of the table and it looked as if they had blown a fortune on Caicedo and his midfield partner Enzo Fernández, who was slow to adapt to the Premier League after his £106.8m move from Benfica. Liverpool had tried to sign Caicedo, offering Brighton £111m, and their fans were celebrating that he had turned them down. Jürgen Klopp also sounded relieved, saying: “Other central defensive midfielders didn’t want to join Liverpool. My god, we were lucky.”

Given Caicedo’s age and obvious quality, patience was required. And, as the season progressed, he began to improve and so did the team. After a humbling 4-2 defeat at home to Wolves in early February, Chelsea went on a brilliant run, losing just one of their last 15 games as they climbed from 11th to sixth in the table. Chelsea won their last five games of the campaign, enough to earn a place in Europe next season. And then they decided to sack Mauricio Pochettino. The dust had not even settled on the season before the Argentinian had been booted out and replaced by Enzo Maresca.

With two major international tournaments taking place this summer, the Italian will not have a close look at some of his core players until later this month. But he will be pleased to see that Caicedo is putting in the sort of performances at the Copa América that convinced Chelsea to sign him in the first place.

Ecuador held Mexico to a goalless draw on Monday to finish second in their group and book a place in the quarter-finals, where they will face Argentina. La Tri recovered well to secure their place in the knockout stages. They were beaten 2-1 by eventual group winners Venezuela in the first round of group games, Enner Valencia’s early red card hindering their chances. But Caicedo helped them pull through.

He provided the assist for Piero Hincapie’s opener in their 3-1 win over Jamaica last week and has been a rock in midfield throughout. The 22-year-old has made more tackles and interceptions combined (20) than any other player at the tournament, and only Sergio Pena (14) has won possession in the midfield third more times than the Ecuador international (13).

Moises Caicedo and William Pacho celebrate after Ecuador draw with Mexico and book their place in the quarter-finals. Photograph: Daniel Bartel/USA Today Sports

His performances should excite Maresca. While Caicedo isn’t the same mould of holding midfielder that the Italian used for Leicester last season – Harry Winks was usually Leicester’s deepest lying midfielder and the former Tottenham man is more of an instigator than a destroyer – he is also tidy on the ball when he does win possession, as shown by a 90.8% pass success rate in the Premier League last season – the fourth best in the Chelsea squad.

His ball retention quality has been less of a feature at the Copa América given Ecuador’s low possession share of 39.5%. Even so, he has been their most efficient passer at the tournament, excellently combining the two key assets of a holding midfielder.

With Fernández expected to operate to the right of Caicedo and new signing Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to the left in Maresca’s favoured 4-3-3 setup, Chelsea have the makings of a top-quality midfield trio. The £221m they spent on Caicedo and Fernández should start to look like a better investment this season. If they continue to improve, Chelsea will boast a dynamic, high-intensity midfield triumvirate that rivals any in the Premier League.

In the immediate future, Caicedo and Ecuador face a tough quarter-final against Argentina. The world champions and Copa América favourites will enjoy a significant chunk of the ball at the NRG Stadium in Texas, having averaged more possession (66.5%) than any other team in the tournament. Lionel Scaloni’s men finished top of their group, winning all three games without conceding a goal. They even rested Lionel Messi, Julián Álvarez and Caicedo’s former Brighton teammate Alexis Mac Allister for their last group game, a 2-0 win against Peru, so Ecuador will be up against it.

With the youngster shielding the backline, Ecuador stand a better chance of upsetting the favourites but it will take a monumental effort to keep this Argentina attack at bay. They have not beaten Argentina in nearly a decade but, if Caicedo maintains his form, this quarter-final will not be a walk in the park for Scaloni’s side.

Team of the group stage Photograph: Team of the group stage

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