Considering Tiemoue Bakayoko had not played a single minute of Chelsea’s pre-season fixtures over the summer, the French international played a vital role in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over bitter rivals Spurs.
After the departure of midfield enforcer Nemanja Matic to Manchester United earlier this month, Antonio Conte’s side looked a little lightweight in midfield against Burnley on the opening day of the season as the Blues succumbed to a shock 3-2 home defeat.
With an average height of just 1.74 metres (5ft 7 inches), N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas failed to take control of the midfield area at Stamford Bridge, forcing the Blues to work harder in defence.
Last season, Nemanja Matic and Kante developed a fearsome partnership which helped the Blues to win thirty league matches. Above all, the midfield duo gave the Blues a solidity, more than that, an impenetrability in the middle of the park, making the London club very tough to break down.
Yet, with Matic out of the team, Chelsea looked weak and vulnerable against Burnley in what was a very worrying start to the club’s title defence.
Now, Chelsea’s timid midfield display against Burnely last Sunday must have been something that Antonio Conte had noted in his post-match analysis of the game. Accordingly, the Italian tactician looked to avoid the same problem against Spurs by handing new signing Tiemoue Bakayoko his first start of the season.
Despite lacking full match fitness, the 23-year-old midfielder was entrusted to play in the London derby and, to Conte’s relief, had a considerable impact on the fixture.
Although Bakayoko may not have the creative talents of Cesc Fabregas and his magic hat, the young midfielder has physicality in abundance and was able to go toe to toe with the likes of Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama – one of the Premier League’s toughest midfield partnerships – on Sunday evening. On numerous occasions, Bakayoko could be seen holding back a Spurs player or clipping at their ankles in order to extinguish the fires of a Spurs attack.
Yet, not only did Bakayoko prove to be a defensive blockade against Tottenham, but he also proved that he is capable of going forward. On a couple of occasions, the 23-year-old was given possession by his defence and was able to run at the Tottenham midfield who were powerless to stop him from advancing towards the edge of the Spurs box. This is something which Nemanja Matic only elected to try out when Chelsea really needed to push up the field.
Now, I’m not saying that Tiemoue Bakayoko is at the same level as former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic. But, give the young enforcer a few months to adapt to his new team and the rigors of Premier League football, and Chelsea could have themselves a new midfielder enforcer.