Chelsea and Dewsbury-Hall: First, why? Second, why? Actually, it makes sense

Chelsea’s new head coach Enzo Maresca officially starts work on July 1 and if things go according to plan, he will soon have his best player from former club Leicester City joining him.

As The Athletic revealed on Friday, Chelsea have made an offer to Leicester for midfielder Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. His displays under Maresca for Leicester in the Championship last season led to him being voted the club’s player of the year and players’ player of the year (and The Athletic’s Championship player of the season).

Chelsea supporters, not for the first time in this window, appear to be a little underwhelmed. Nothing has been agreed yet and the 25-year-old could end up staying at Leicester, but given Chelsea have so many midfielders in the squad already, it is still worth discussing why they are making such a move.

This has been under consideration for weeks and is not a last-minute reaction to Brighton & Hove Albion’s attempts to acquire Dewsbury-Hall themselves this week. Chelsea were under the impression Leicester would listen to offers but could not act straight away due to the amount of squad planning — ins and outs — being earmarked this summer. They have already been busy on this front. Meanwhile, Maresca needed to be involved in these discussions but as he was not in the building yet, it provided a bit of a complication to work around.

It is no surprise Maresca is on board with this pursuit, but Chelsea have not just decided to go along with it to keep the Italian happy. Dewsbury-Hall fits the system Maresca likes to use and provides something different to what they have in the squad because he is a left-footed midfielder.

His potential arrival has led to more speculation that a final decision on Conor Gallagher’s future has been made and he will definitely be sold. That is not the case and Chelsea have not ruled out offering an extension to the England international’s contract, which has just 12 months left to run. Gallagher is regarded as more of a defensive/box-to-box midfielder, whereas Dewsbury-Hall is being lined up to play further forward as an attacking midfielder.

Players could go the other way as part of an exchange or in standalone deals. Leicester have already registered their interest in a few Chelsea players. They need a striker and a replacement for Dewsbury-Hall if he heads to Stamford Bridge. David Datro Fofana and Cesare Casadei, who was on loan at Leicester for the first half of last season, are two individuals that Chelsea would be prepared to see go in the opposite direction. Albania forward Armando Broja is up for sale but is not involved.

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David Datro Fofana, on loan at Burnley last season, could be part of any Dewsbury-Hall deal (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

While he may not boast the same status as some of his potential new team-mates, Dewsbury-Hall will have quite an advantage over them should he be in place for the start of pre-season training because he knows what Maresca demands and how the Italian wants to operate. A key aspect of how Maresca works is that he is completely wedded to his method of play and the emphasis in Chelsea’s recruitment process will be to sign players that fit into it, rather than for Marseca to find a system that fits the players.

Judging from Maresca’s approach at Leicester, some players already at Chelsea will have to adjust their games and learn new disciplines. Those who fail to adjust to Maresca’s vision will quickly find themselves surplus to requirements, either on their way out of the club or sidelined with little opportunity to contribute. For example, without the need for conventional full-backs, Victor Kristiansen and Luke Thomas were moved out on loan last season, and Harry Souttar barely featured for Leicester because his ability on the ball playing out from the back was not deemed to be of the standard required.

In contrast, full-back Ricardo Pereira adapted to move into midfield when the team were in possession, and defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi was turned into an attacking midfielder. Even Jamie Vardy altered his game to move from the striker playing on the shoulder of the final defender to dropping deeper and linking play to allow midfielders to run in behind him.

This was where Dewsbury-Hall played a prominent role for the Championship winners and will surely do so for Chelsea.

In Maresca’s plan, the high central midfielders play key roles. With the holding midfielder and inside full-back anchoring in front of a back three, it is up to the central midfielders to play in between the lines and link the attack with the wide players and the lone striker. Under Maresca, Chelsea will attack with a five and defend with five.

At Leicester, Dewsbury-Hall was encouraged to get into the box, to contribute goals and assists, while Ndidi offered a little more defensive insurance if the attack broke down and the opposition countered. It paid off. Dewsbury-Hall scored or assisted 29 per cent of Leicester’s 89 goals as they clinched automatic promotion to the Premier League. He scored 12 times, a target that was part of a bet with Maresca. His prize? A dinner paid for by the Italian.

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Dewsbury-Hall after scoring against Coventry (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Dewsbury-Hall’s importance was so profound that he featured in all but four games in all competitions, starting 43 of Leicester’s 53 games. When he did not play, Leicester struggled to have the same penetration into the box. Dewsbury-Hall will be a big loss to new manager Steve Cooper’s squad if he is gone for good.

“Since we started, Kiernan has probably improved the most,” Maresca said in November having previously told Dewsbury-Hall to cut down his long-range shooting. “At the beginning, he was full of responsibility because he’s from the academy and after relegation. After the first international break, he calmed down, and now if you’re watching the game as a fan, it’s a pleasure to watch Kiernan and see how calm he is.”

There was a visible change in Dewsbury-Hall during the campaign, a growing maturity in his game compared to his last season in the Premier League, when he only contributed two goals and two assists in 28 starts. “He is fantastic with the ball and he knows when to attack and what the team needs,” Maresca added. “He is so dangerous near the box, and has the quality to score or assist from anywhere.”

Maresca’s philosophy brought out the best in Dewsbury-Hall last season. The midfielder’s ambition is to become an England international and a move to Chelsea will be seen as an opportunity to establish himself as a top Premier League player and a contender for a call-up.

Dewsbury-Hall has been a late bloomer. He joined the Leicester academy when he was eight and didn’t make his first-team debut until four years ago. But he made significant progress during loan spells with Blackpool and Luton Town before stepping up at Leicester. Now he is looking to make the step up again at Chelsea and Maresca will believe he is more than capable of taking his game to the next level.



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(Top photo: Michael Regan via Getty Images)

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