From ‘Chelsea B’ to Chelsea: Will this be Marco van Ginkel’s season to impress?
Priya Ramesh is an Indian-born Dutch football fan who grew up in Amsterdam and now lives in Singapore. She is a freelance football writer and has a fondness for people called ‘Frank’. You can follow her on Twitter @Priya8Ramesh.
When Marco van Ginkel left Vitesse for Chelsea in summer 2013, despite interest from Ajax, many perceived it to be a fruit of the close relationship between the Premier League giants and Vitesse. There were doubts about how well the Dutch youngster would fare at Stamford Bridge, given the extremely high level of competition and quality within the squad.
However, the initial signs were extremely positive, with Van Ginkel featuring heavily in pre-season, including starts against AC Milan, Inter and Real Madrid. However, as the competitive season started, Jose Mourinho opted to begin with a more experienced selection in the ‘pivot’ role. The then 20-year-old could only get 13 minutes of Premier League playing time under his belt, but he was sent to start in the Blues’ very first Champions League encounter of the season, as they lined up against Basel. Although the Blues lost, the former Eredivisie ‘Talent of the year’ was relatively impressive in the middle of the park, offering a certain dynamism, technique and ability to link the defence and attack that was slightly reminiscent of Michael Ballack.
However, in a very unfortunate turn of events, the promising youngster suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament after only 10 minutes on field in a League Cup match vs Swindon, and this ruled him out of what could have been a breakthrough season for him at the highest level.
Having returned from injury late into last season and played in a few Chelsea U21 matches as well as Louis van Gaal’s training camp for World Cup potentials from the Eredivisie (which he was allowed to join and permitted to miss Chelsea’s last game vs Cardiff) and capped his summer with a few matches for the Oranje U21 team. Van Ginkel returned to Cobham for pre-season training on Wednesday and at this point, should be fit enough to fully fight for a place in the Chelsea lineup. But what does this season promise for him?
It looks increasingly likely that January signing Nemanja Matic will be – if he is not already – Jose Mourinho’s first choice in midfield and thus, going by the 4-2-3-1/defensive 4-3-3 standard formation used by Mourinho last season, in which two central midfielders sit behind a more attacking midfielder (usually Oscar), it is safe to say that being the Serb’s partner is a highly coveted spot within the Chelsea squad.
Last season, David Luiz, Ramires and Frank Lampard all had spells partnering Matic in the centre, and though Chelsea have let both Luiz and Lampard go this summer, they have also acquired 27-year-old Cesc Fabregas, who is looking favorite at the moment to take that spot.
However, though this puts Van Ginkel’s chances of being a regular starter in slight peril, it does not mean he will be entirely frozen out of the scene. While he likes a steady formation and starting XI, Mourinho is not afraid of rotation, being a tactically flexible manager too. Fabregas’ defensive abilities do not quite measure up to a ‘pivot’ role and though he may be effectively shielded by the big Serb when up against smaller teams, it is hard to see the Portuguese pitting the Spaniard against bigger teams with better players, in that role. This is where van Ginkel steps in.
A more physically imposing figure and sensible player than Ramires, Van Ginkel could step in at the same junctures that David Luiz did last season, where a big central midfielder with good distribution is required. While the Dutchman’s energy is perhaps not as indefatigable as the Duracell bunny that Ramires is, he certainly offers more on the ball than the Brazilian has shown over the last season and is not as prone to dishing out rash tackles. Moreover, the Amersfoort-born player is more than fine with his circulation of the ball and has brilliant vision, which makes him an asset both in possession and moving the ball quickly on the counter.
There is no doubt the ex-Vitesse man will be looking to make an impression on his boss in the following few weeks – which includes a trip back home to Gelderland – to hopefully, assert his place in the Chelsea first team and reach the heights he was touted to, despite the slight delay.