Here’s an exercise in team strategy for you.
Picture the Chelsea squad. Now picture the best eleven in the team to start any game. Who would you say was Chelsea’s biggest talent on the right?
You might be inclined to pick the under-appreciated Andre Schurrle. How many other teams can boast of having the player who set up the World Cup winning goal? But Schurrle’s fallen a long way since then: going from a World Cup medal winner to a potential makeweight in Chelsea’s January transfer window dealings.
How about the irrepressible Willian, you counter? Willian has been a terrific addition to the Chelsea playing XI, and even his biggest detractors would be hard-pressed to deny that. Those surging runs and willingness to throw himself on the line, as he tracks back unselfishly to bolster Chelsea’s imperious defense. But Willian’s notoriously fickle in front of goal, capable of incredibly frustrating finishing on a stellar opportunity he would have painstakingly fashioned only minutes earlier.
Mohammed Salah is another name that might come up, if you’re an optimist. But the Egyptian has disappointed dramatically and whenever he’s been given a chance. With only two goals to show for his appearances, the Egyptian can only rely on his age as a defense for what has been a poor stint at Chelsea.
Perhaps Ramires who briefly excelled up front on the right, under Rafa Benitez, might want to throw his hat into the ring. But then, under Mourinho’s new-look Chelsea reign, the Brazilian has found it hard to hold on to a place in the squad – even his preferred defensive midfield position is up for grabs, with Matic and Mikel getting the nod more often than not. Sure, Ramires brings his much celebrated indefatigable spirit and lungs of steel to the job, but in an increasingly physical Premier League, Ramires is good enough but simply not great enough.
But you’d be wrong with all these answers. Chelsea’s strongest talent on the right, would be Eden Hazard – on those rare occasions he decides to switch his side of play, and surprise the opposing defense that is expecting his wizardry on the Blues’ left side.
Enter Cuadrado. And all of that’s suddenly about to change.
In the Fiorentina man, whom Chelsea is likely to sign in the next 48 hours, the Blues have a truly attacking threat on the right – who, while not yet in the Hazard mold, is not someone to be trifled with. Willian has the most to lose with the addition of this Colombian superstar to the ranks of Chelsea’s stars. With just 3 goals, and 3 assists, Willian is beginning to resemble Mikel in at least one respect – a lot of effort, but no statistics to show for it.
Cuadrado is incredibly agile, quick and does a mean step-over that Eden Hazard, no less, would approve of. Nicknamed Vespa, the Colombian will harangue opposing defenders with his guile and trickery, an option the industrious Willian and Ramires would not have been able to provide a Chelsea side that is virtually begging for it.
Cuadrado also has an incredible work-rate that will endear him to Mourinho. The absence of that alone would not have been sufficient to keep him out of the Chelsea team, as the manager is known to instill that trait in players with the discipline required to track back. Eden Hazard picked it up, and it goes without saying Cuadrado would too – even if it isn’t already included in the package.
Cuadrado, whose initial troubles included not being able to find the back of the net, as much as others would have liked spends sevral hours after games and practice session taking shots at goal from difficult angles. Cuadrado has even made light-hearted references to being the bane of Fiorentina goalkeepers’ existence, by insisting they keep him company until they hit the showers. That will undoubtedly brought a wry smile to the hard to please Mourinho.
Chelsea have agreed to match the A?27 million asking price, which is a testament to how much and how quickly they expect to recoup from the Fiorentina genius in the next few years. At 26, Cuadrado is well past the talent molding stage, and it will be up to him to prove he can fit in Chelsea’s plan with minimal fuss and can hit the ground running. He is unlikely to be even given the time Salah, Remy and Zouma were to fit in to the squad and plot their own learning curve. Cuadrado will be handed more of a hit-or-miss opportunity than any of Chelsea’s other recent purchases.
Mourinho isn’t one to spend money on an impulse, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Chelsea’s right flank was the only one that needed a bit of polishing up. Having started as a striker, Cuadrado needed a season-long loan from Udinese to Lecce before he could find the back of the net. At Fiorentina he has netted 33 times in just over a 100 games. It may not be the stratospheric striking rate of Costa and Hazard, but for now, Cuadrado’s pace on the right and willingness to pass the ball to others better-positioned make him the perfect foil for Mourinho’s frontline.
He can also dance. That certainly won’t hurt his chances.