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HomeOpinion/FeaturesPlayer Analysis: Why Chelsea's purchase of Mykhaylo Mudryk is a big risk

Player Analysis: Why Chelsea’s purchase of Mykhaylo Mudryk is a big risk

While the January transfer window has been relatively dormant for most club, Chelsea continue to be active in the market. They’ve now made their latest big-money purchase under the new Todd Boehly consortium ownership with the confirmation of their £100 million deal for 22-year-old Shakthar Donestk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk.

The fee is staggering, especially for a player with little first-team experience outside the Ukranian top flight. This begs the question: what makes Mudryk so valuable?

What sets Mudryk apart from other wingers in his age group is the way he controls his pace. There are a small handful of players who possess blistering speed with the ball at their feet, but Mudryk’s ability goes even further. He has an uncanny ability to decelerate or accelerate seemingly instantaneously, as if he were controlling it with a dial.

That unique control over his acceleration makes Mudryk a fearsome ball carrier. He mainly receives the ball wide and deep on the left, often towards or even behind the halfway line. From these deep areas, he can drive with the ball for extended distances and act as a line-breaking carrier to progress the ball up the pitch. He’ll often receive the ball and hesitate for a moment, using his gravity to draw opposition markers towards him while essentially standing still himself. Then, he’ll burst into life. He takes many small touches with the ball without impeding his speed, giving him maximum control when carrying through swathes of players he’s attracted. His somewhat stalky build, especially in his upper body, adds further power to his stride and allows him to barrel through opposition units. His changes of pace, remarkable touch and control, and seamless shifts of weight make him a nightmare to defend.

Higher up the pitch, Mudryk can also pose a one v one threat out wide. When isolating a fullback, he can employ the same tactic: slowing himself and the defender to a near standstill, shifting gears to full speed to beat his man, and then slowing down again to pick a pass or cross. As with many young players, his end product and decision-making in those situations need refinement. However, his capacity to regularly get in such positions is what makes him such an exciting player.

Mudryk also has the technical ability to receive the ball in different areas. He is excellent at roaming in the left-half space and receiving the ball on the half-turn, positioning himself in between the lines to then drive at an opposition backline directly. This season, his goal tally is ten goals in all competitions — a stark improvement from last season’s two — have mainly come from him being direct and decisive in the left inside channel. This means that he can dovetail well with an aggressive overlapping fullback if required, taking up slightly narrower positions and posing a greater shot creating threat rather than a progressive one.

What makes Mudryk so impressive, and so expensive, is that the traits he possesses cannot be taught. While a player can improve their acceleration, deceleration, and raw sprint speed, there are sharp physical limits to those improvements. They’re significantly harder to improve than training technical shortcomings such as ball striking, crossing, or through balls. When teams know they are facing a player with the pace and control Mudryk possesses, they know that their defensive structure can be dismantled in a matter of seconds because of his ability to reliably beat multiple players. By virtue of his athleticism and technical prowess, the 22-year-old is something of a cheat code for his team in possession.

However, Mudryk is far from the finished article, and he’s joining a team that isn’t necessarily primed for his abilities. As expected for his age, he’s unpolished, and his decision-making and execution in the final third leaves a lot to be desired. Furthermore, given that he’s a player who likes to receive from deep and drive into space, he’d be best suited for a primarily counter-attacking team or a coach like his former boss Roberto De Zerbi, whose tactics are designed to lure the opposition forward with deep build-up to create space in behind for more direct attacks.

Potter has a much more structured possession-based approach, especially in the final third. Mudryk needs to be far more composed and careful with possession to thrive in such a setup. He will also need to become more positionally flexible and become used to occupying various zones throughout the course of a game rather than stationing himself on the left touchline or left inside channel.

He’s also a player whose game is predicating on timing: knowing when exactly to speed up and slow down. Those reference points will all change in the Premier League, and while he has shown his ability to transition from Ukrainian football to Champions League football, he will take time to adjust to truly make an impact at Chelsea.

Perhaps most pertinently, Potter doesn’t use wingers who stay wide and hug the touchline. In the 3-4-3 he has used most frequently at Chelsea, Mudryk could play as one of the front three, but would not be able to receive the ball in the areas he prefers to. For that, he would have to play as a left wingback. We’ve seen Christian Pulisic and Raheem Sterling used in the role, and it could work well for the Blues, but to spend that much on a player only to use him in a system and role he is totally new to seems like poor squad planning.

The other danger of the transfer for Chelsea is that Mudryk is an extremely young player entering a very transient squad. In the frontline alone, there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan of what players Chelsea want to keep and which they want to sell, let alone a picture of how the attacking players should fit together. Potter has a renowned reputation for developing young players, and in time, he could well make Mudryk a fantastic player. But a mid-season transfer move of this magnitude brings pressure and expectation, and Mudryk could certainly benefit from a more stable environment around him.

Even if the move isn’t an immediate success, if Mudryk is able to replicate something of the level he displayed in Ukraine and in the Champions League, he will at least provide the Chelsea attack with some impetus. In a team that otherwise can meander towards the final third, Mudryk will add dynamism and a faster tempo to their attacking moves. By virtue of his essentially uncoachable assets, he has a very high ceiling and could well come good on his £100 million.

However, given the difficulty of the transition Mudryk will have to make both because of the tactical system and squad environment he is entering, it’s hard to think of this transfer as a likely success. A squad rebuild would have to commence quickly so that Potter has a more coherent group of players within which he can mould his new winger. Whether Boehly will be capable of doing that this January or next summer remains to be seen. What is clear is that Mudryk could be one of the most entertaining players to watch in the league for the rest of the season and beyond.

Read – Five Chelsea players massively underperforming this season

Read Also – Remembering five of Gareth Bale’s greatest goals

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