Friday, August 19, 2022

Marc Cucurella transfer: Why Chelsea would be a perfect fit for the Brighton defender

Marc Cucurella of Brighton is a wanted man. Manchester City want him, they’ve offered around £35 million for him. But Brighton want him too and their asking price is more than £50 million. Chelsea want him too and have swooped in to try and move for the want-away defender. Cucurella was left out of the squad for Brighton’s friendly against Espanyol over the weekend and now is the time to either resolve his exit or ensure that he’ll be a Brighton player for the upcoming season since the Premier League kicks off on Friday

It seems likely that Chelsea will find an agreement with Brighton as they’ve already agreed on personal terms with Cucurella’s camp according to transfer guru Fabrizio Romano. This would see Manchester City fall out of the bidding, likely moving to other targets to improve their own defensive ranks after Oleksandr Zinchenko‘s move to Arsenal. To facilitate a move, there is a chance that Chelsea could send Levi Colwill the other way to Brighton. A talented center back, Colwill spent last season on loan with Huddersfield, almost pushing them to promotion to the Premier League. But if Chelsea aren’t ready to give him the minutes to develop, Brighton will be a good option.

Hailing from the ranks of La Masia and the Espanyol academy, Cucurella has experienced quite the rise over the past few years. After multiple loans around La Liga, Cucurella finally settled on a permanent move to Getafe. It was back-to-back seasons of being involved in five or more goals, while providing defensive cover at both left back and center back that piqued the interest of Brighton’s scouting department, earning Cucurella a move to the Premier League in August of 2021. 

A victim of their own success, Brighton may not be able to hang on to one of their hottest prospects, but at only 24 they may more than double their investment in him after he only cost £19.8 million when joining the club only a year ago. Playing under Graham Potter, Brighton play a possession-heavy style fit for a top six club which only increases interest in their players around England. In effect, one year at Brighton has resoundingly answered the questions many top teams may have had about whether a player who played for the cynical and defensive Getafe was fit for a different style.

Cucurella’s responsibilities in the attack are just as important as those when he’s defending as a left back or as a central defender in a back three. He’s able to step forward to progress possession and hit an outlet pass with deadly accuracy if he spots that someone is making a run. For Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3 Cucurella’s role would mirror that which he played at Brighton which is why Chelsea stepping in while talks broke down with Manchester City makes sense.

With the Blues losing their starting left-sided center back Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer to Real Madrid, there is a hole made for Cucurella in the defense, and what he lacks in stature compared to Rudiger, he makes up in the flowing locks that you’ll be watching from behind when Cucurella beats you on the dribble. Cucurella’s flexibility would mean that he could either start in the back three or, depending on the matchup, Kalidou Koulibaly, a natural center back, could start there with Cucurella on the wing. That would put Cucurella in a similar role to Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James on the right, both of whom can player either the wing or in the back line, depending on Tuchel’s tactical choices in a given match.

Cucurella isn’t as strong of an aerial presence as Rudiger but he could bring similar marauding runs into the box without wanting to shoot from outside the box every time that he’s given a chance. While Rudiger brought Chelsea a lot of joy when carrying the ball forward, a little more discipline with the ball at his feet would’ve gone a long way in keeping attacks from breaking down. Cucurella has that discipline and it shows in the stats.

Out of all defenders who played more than 500 minutes last season, Cucurella played the fourth most passes in the final third, completing 78% of those passes which was the 17th best rate in the league. His partner on the right Tariq Lamptey also completed 82% of his 249 passes attempted in the final third which speaks to the system that Potter has instilled at Brighton. These skills in the final third would suit any team that prefers to play on the front foot.

Cucurella also registered 41 key passes which was fourth among defenders. Supporting Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, and Kai Havertz instead of Neal Maupay, Leandro Trossard, and Danny Welbeck, it’s easy to expect Cucurella’s assist numbers to also rise with a move to Stamford Bridge. At Brighton, he scored one goal and assisted one more but he had an xA of 2.90 showing Brighton’s finishing woes. Cucurella’s 41 key passes were only four fewer than Andrew Robertson and seven fewer than Lucas Digne, both of whom are recognized as top attacking fullbacks.

Even when it comes to threading through balls, only Joao Cancelo, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Stuart Dallas, Antonio Rudiger, and Virgil van Dijk completed more than Cucurella’s five among defenders. With Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta’s futures in doubt amid interest from Barcelona, Cucurella can fill a couple of spots for Tuchel as well.

If Ben Chilwell is healthy, then Cucurella can slot in at left center back allowing new signing Koulibaly to play his favored right sided central position. This would be optimal as it also would see James used as a wing back instead of playing as a center back to make the attack stronger for Chelsea. If Chilwell needs more time to reach match fitness then Cucurella is a better starting option at left back while Emerson provides a depth option. In this scenario, Koulibaliy would flip to the left with James or Azpilicueta at center back.

Cucurella’s success, and the attention it has garnered is both a credit to Potter and an exciting look at the levels that Brighton could compete at if the funds from selling Cucurella and Yves Bissouma to Tottenham are reinvested properly. When your players can slot into systems at Spurs and Chelsea without much need for tactical tweaks, it should provide confidence that you can compete with those teams with the right additions. It also makes you an attractive team for players looking to prove themselves to bigger clubs. 

For Brighton and Chelsea a Cucurella deal makes sense, but the move is closer to the beginning of the story than the end for both teams. Adding Cucurella would make Chelsea’s defense complete but they’ll still need to be perfect to close the gap for a title challenge with a squad that has lots of question marks elsewhere. For Brighton, a big fee would be proof positive that their model is working, and spending that money well would go a long way to continuing their carefully managed march up the Premier League table.

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