Scout report: Axel Witsel - The next great midfielder in the Premier League
All budding professional footballers strive to be the best. Every player wants to play for the best clubs at the highest level. For every club, whether they are big or small, they will have a select list of players whom they desperately want. Napoli, Everton, and Chelsea, all have eyes set on one man; Zenit St Petersburg's Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel. After playing for clubs like Benfica, Standard Liege, and Zenit St Petersburg for 10 years, the Belgian is set for a move to Chelsea, one of the best clubs playing at the highest level. With the deal inching closer, let us take a closer look at one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe:
Witsel was born and brought up in Liege (Belgium), one of the country’s biggest football cities. He first kicked a football at the age of three and fell in love with the sport a few months later. At the age of 15, Witsel was offered a chance to join Standard Liege’s youth team, which he eventually accepted.
A couple of years later, he made his professional debut for the senior team and went on to make a further 147 appearances for the Belgian club, scoring 34 goals. He won the ‘Belgian Golden Shoe’ in 2008, an award given to the top scorer in the Belgian domestic league. In 2011,
Witsel signed a five-year deal with Portuguese club Benfica, which included a €40 million buyout clause. After two successful seasons, Russian giants Zenit triggered his buyout clause and the Belgian found himself playing in Russia. After 106 games and 3 trophies with Zenit, Witsel figured it was time to move to a bigger club and English giants Chelsea, have mostly answered his call.
Style of play
Witsel is a defensive midfielder by trade but play’s a role similar to Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. The midfielder revolves his game around passing and uses it to good effect in attack and defence. The Belgian pulls the strings for his team with his positional play and defensive abilities.
Witsel is one of the most versatile midfielders in Europe. When he arrived in Benfica, Witsel had to play in several positions. He was played as an attacking midfielder, defensive midfielder and even as a right back on a few occasions. Witsel excelled in each of the three positions. With his versatility, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte can play Witsel anywhere across the midfield and can expect good results.
The 27-year-old possesses the ability to knock the opponents out of their stride, which will help him dominate most of the smaller Premier League midfielders. He is a tough barrier to navigate around, making him very difficult to face. Witsel has won at least one trophy in his previous three clubs.
Hence, the winning mentality has already been instilled in him. After a disastrous 2015-16 Premier League season, Chelsea could do with a couple of positive thinkers. Leadership has come naturally to Witsel. He stands up and does the dirty work when the team needs him most. The Belgian is an intelligent passer and has a minimum of 90% pass percentage in each of his previous nine seasons.
Witsel’s ill-discipline is a major concern. A two-legged challenge on Marcin Wasilewski (broke both his legs and almost ended his career) resulted in an eight-game suspension. He racked up numerous cards in his time at Standard Liege and Benfica. However, he seems to have settled down after a move to Zenit, having been sent off only once in three seasons. Given his qualities, Witsel’s finishing abilities need some major improvements.
Having been in the Belgian team for over 8 years, he has found the net only seven times. He gets caught up in long battles with a member of the opposition team, which tends to affect his game.
"I have an objective in my head and I want to join a big club. I think about the Premier League, the league everyone's looking at. You have eight top clubs there. A move to Chelsea would be a dream come true for me" Witsel is excited about the prospect of joining English giants Chelsea.
Would Witsel fit in at Chelsea?
With John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic on the verge of an exit from Stanford Bridge, the London side are in dire need of a defensive midfielder. Signing Michy Batshuayi will not be enough for Chelsea to capture the Premier League. With a quality player like Witsel, Chelsea can give Liverpool and the Manchester clubs some good competition in midfield.
The Belgian will relieve Cesc Fabregas from defensive duties, making the Spaniard more efficient in attack. His positional play will instil fluidity in the midfield, which they lacked last season. His aerial abilities will be a big bonus for the club. These qualities make Witsel the perfect fit for Chelsea. He will play a vital role in changing the London club’s fortunes.