“I think Josh McEachran can play every game. He showed his quality. He was good defensively, won a lot of tackles. And, obviously, with the ball he’s fantastic”
Carlo Ancelotti – November 24th 2010.
Every talented young footballer suffers from over-hyping at one point of his career or another. When that player is seventeen and making starts for Premier League champions Chelsea in the Champions League, that extended hype is exaggerated further. Last night, Josh McEachran made his first full appearance at Stamford Bridge, and put in a performance that left manager Carlo Ancelotti glowing after the most difficult fortnight of his tenure in West London.
McEachran has been at the club since the age of seven, and despite his slight build and youthful appearance, a strong head was displayed in captaining England’s Under-17 side to the European Championship earlier this year. Left-footed, he is at home in the centre of midfield, yet can play on the left, and he has gradually been integrated into Ancelotti’s first XI during the current season, making substitute appearances against Manchester City in the Premier League and Newcastle United in the Carling Cup amongst others.
On Tuesday night, against Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina, McEachran was originally deployed in a deeper role than he would be used to, holding the midfield. Some may see this as a more relaxed position against a weaker opponent, this being his debut appearance; others may see Ramires filling in the McEachran-esque role ahead of him, relegating the youngster into a deeper position.
During the opening period of the game, in which Chelsea inherited a surprising 1-0 deficit, McEachran’s movement of the ball (whilst not terrible), seemed restricted by his deeper role. Six or seven cross-field balls were misplaced, and more worryingly, other shorter passes were off-target in his own half.
Whilst all this occurred in an all-round disappointing first-half performance from Chelsea, McEachran’s place in the puzzle seemed a little jumbled, and as part of a re-shuffle at half-time that saw Salamon Kalou brought into the mix in place of Gael Kakuta, McEachran was shifted alongside Ramires in search of goals.
In his more typical central/left position, McEachran’s display improved exponentially. Until substituted to a standing ovation in the 91st minute, 38 of his 42 passes were completed. The four missing can be pinpointed to three crosses from the left, where he would regularly sling balls into the box as Chelsea searched for a winner, and one long range clearance from deep in his own half. Taking away these excusable passes, every single one of McEachran’s passes connected, with all but five taking place in the opposition’s half, and practically all moving forward or across into the channels to provoke attacks.
Again, this change in persona from half-to-half did run through the entire Chelsea side, but the shift in positioning and its ensuing results are a credit to both McEachran in raising his game to the task, and Ancelotti in his management of the youngster. His ‘influence’ on the game (calculated by the TotalFootball iPhone app, where all this data is collated from), is shown below:
Whilst this data is collated through a number of factors perhaps somewhat irrelevant to the above point, McEachran’s dwarfing of players such as Didier Drogba, and perhaps more importantly, Ramires, goes some way to suggesting what Ancelotti’s describes above; that McEachran is ready to play whenever called upon, in what has been a difficult period for the Premier League champions.