Scout report: What can new signing Baba Rahman offer Chelsea?
Chelsea’s slow activity in the summer transfer market and subsequent difficult start to the season has seen them launching a late scramble to improve a defence that has conceded 5 goals in its opening 2 games. And the Blues looked slipshod in the 3-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad in the second gameweek.
The bid to sign centre-half John Stones from Everton has reached £30 million, but the Toffees have so far remained unmoved in their refusal to sell, but the champions have enjoyed more luck with their attempts to sign another defender, with left-back Baba Rahman joining from FC Augsburg for an initial £14 million fee that could rise to £21 million based on appearances.
Rahman has 2 years of Bundesliga experience to his name, one season with SpVgg Greuther Furth and one with Augsburg, and was very brief with his introduction when unveiled at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground. "I'm happy to be here, nice meeting you," was his succinct announcement to Chelsea’s supporters who will be left eagerly waiting to see what he can add to a squad that has failed to hit the ground running at the beginning of its title defence.
Background: Who is Baba Rahman?
The defender was born in Ghana and started his career with Dreams FC, a club based in the Madina district of the Ghanaian capital of Accra that was formed only as recently as 2009. A club who compete in the second tier of the Ghanaian system, a big framed picture of Rahman now proudly adorns the club offices alongside one of John Antwi, a fellow graduate of the club’s youth system who, like Rahman, has gone on to win a full international cap for the Black Stars
Dreams maintain close links with Greuther Furth and after a year-long loan spell in the Ghana top-flight with Asante Kokoto, with whom he made 25 appearances and was named runner-up in the league’s “Discovery of the Year” award, he moved to the German outfit who were then newly-promoted to the Bundesliga. Greuther did, however, have to fend off interest from Manchester City and Arsenal who had become aware of Ghana’s rising star.
Rahman said he decided to move to Greuther because the German club “offered him the best conditions in which to develop my career” and managed to rack up 44 appearances across 2 seasons with them. Although they were relegated in their first season in the top-flight, Rahman was a consistent feature of the Greuther team that finished 3rd in the 2013/14 2.Bundesliga and narrowly lost out on away goals to Hamburg in the relegation/promotion play-off.
His time with FC Augsburg
Despite starting the next campaign with Greuther, Augsburg had seen enough and the 2 goals the left-back netted in the 5-1 thrashing of FC Nurnberg at the start of last season proved to be his first and last goals for SpVgg as the next day he was signed by the Bundesliga outfit for around £2 million.
A year later, after a season in which Rahman started 29 of Augsburg’s games as they achieved their highest-ever finish of 5th and qualified for the Europa League for the first time in their history, the Bavarian club have banked a £12 million profit on the 21 year old, with more set to come. His excellent form was also recognised in the form of a nomination for the Bundesliga’s best left-back in the team of the season, where he stood against Juan Bernat of Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez.
"We are convinced that it fits very well not only with his sporting qualities in our team, he is a young player who has development potential and prove themselves in the Bundesliga” said FCA’s sporting Stefan Reuter upon signing Rahman but he wouldn’t have predicted just how emphatically he was proved correct.
Style, strengths and weaknesses
The most potent trait Rahman possesses is his athleticism and a stamina that allows him to run up and down the left-flank for the full 90 minutes. The versatility to play at both full-back and winger on the left-flank and the abilities he holds to slot naturally into either role will appeal to Jose Mourinho who likes to operate with a small squad.
For instance Rahman made more successful tackles than any other player in the Bundesliga last term, emerging with the ball in 109 of 145 attempted challenges, while he also topped the charts for the amount of crosses put in from the left-wing. Rahman also racked up 4 assists and created 24 chances for his team-mates as he provided a willing attacking outlet as well as a diligent defensive one.
His 3.5 tackles per game last season indicates he likes a battle but it is a common occurrence to see Rahman charging down to the flank to whip balls in with his left foot, like he did to present Andre Ayew with Ghana’s winner against South Africa in last year’s African Nations Cup.
Similarly to any marauding full-back Rahman is blessed with abundant pace and he uses it both to keep in touch with the man he is marking and to charge forward and join attacks. His rate of 2.2 dribbles per game for Augsburg last season suggests the Ghanaian isn’t afraid to carry the ball forward and with Chelsea’s current left-sided incumbent Eden Hazard fond of drifting inside, Rahman’s desire to gallop forward on the overlap will be a huge asset for his new club.
While Rahman is two-footed with impressive technical ability and gifted close control, the 21 year old will have to work on his passing as he can often lose possession too easily when asked to build out from the back. Of his total passes for Augsburg last season he was successful with just 71% of them and with the Premier League notable for high-intensity pressing, he will have to improve his composure in possession.
Furthermore, whilst his 5ft 10 inch frame gives Rahman a good build for a full-back and the 67.5% of headed challenges he won last term indicate he can be useful at set-pieces in both boxes, the left-back can often be shrugged off too easily by attackers due to a lack of upper-body strength that requires some work. To help him adapt to the physicality of the English game, the fitness department at Chelsea’s Cobham training facility will have to work to address that.
Where will he fit in at Chelsea?
Rahman arrives with some imperfections for Mourinho and his team to iron out but at the age of 21 and with just 2 campaigns of Bundesliga football under his belt, that is no surprise. With Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta both mainstays at full-back in the side that won last year’s title and the Portuguese coach not set to discard his faith in them over 2 poor results, Rahman is likely, for the time-being, to star as the cover option required after the sale of Felipe Luis back to Atletico Madrid.
Though hard in the tackle and full of desire to break forward and contribute to attacks with lung-busting runs, the Ghanaian international offers Chelsea a strong option to have in reserve, while also carrying the potential to be a long-term component of the side. It may even convince Mourinho to smile again after a chaotic opening to the season.