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Premier League: Can Enzo Fernandez bring the fire to Chelsea?

Spending big is nothing new for Chelsea, but their first window under Graham Potter has seen no holding back as the Blues look to resurrect an ailing Premier League campaign.

With the British transfer record smashed, World Cup-winning central midfielder Enzo Fernandez has left Benfica and joined the club for the princely sum of £107m – a full £7m more than the cost of Jack Grealish's transfer from Aston Villa to Manchester City in 2021.

The price tag sees the Portuguese side rake in a reported profit of £97m after they captured the 22-year-old for a fraction of that cost from River Plate in August.

Blues playing Premier League catch-up

Snatching Ukrainian rising star Mykhailo Mudryk from under the noses of leaders Arsenal – at 8/11 to clinch a first title since 2003/04 – felt like a major coup for the Stamford Bridge outfit, who sit a whole ten points from the Champions League positions and are at 15/2 to steal a place in the top four.

But the situation has become so critical in West London that even a top-six finish is against the odds at 5/4 and Todd Boehly’s latest sign-off brings the club's transfer outlay to a reported £288m as they desperately attempt to keep pace with the league's elite.

Add this to a record-breaking £270m summer spend and the figures become eye-watering. All this begs a very important – and expensive – question: what does Enzo Fernandez bring to the team?

Creative spark wanted at the Bridge

Key to this debate is the departure of Jorginho, crossing London to join the Gunners for a fee of £12m. 

The Italian's five-year spell at the Bridge has seen the Euro 2020 winner's performances peak and trough and the acquisition of a highly rated, exciting deep-lying midfielder could see that hole filled for many years to come.

A glaring lack of goals has led to no end of problems this season for Chelsea. While a tight defence have kept losses down, the Blues have been outscored by all of the Premier League top-half teams by a minimum of ten goals – even bottom club Southampton, with 17 to their name, only trail Potter's men by five.

But while Fernandez is certainly no centre-forward with a double-figure output, the playmaker’s effect on Benfica's potency in just half a season has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Benfica spell bodes well

The Argentine has laid on 30 chances for his team-mates so far this league campaign and is second in the Portuguese top-flight assist chart. So clear was his potential even before his move to Europe that Manchester City and Real Madrid were interested in swooping for him when still in his homeland.

Billed by some as a potential successor to Luka Modric, his clever touch and enviable passing range at a tender age make him a thrilling purchase for Chelsea, who have been missing a link going forward – and the key to improvement may well lie with the arrival of one of the most talked-about young stars on the continent.

But with any major signing comes great expectation; particularly with a seismic transfer fee involved. With the midway point of the Premier League season having come and gone, there is little time for Fernandez to bed into his surroundings and grow accustomed to the pace of the competition. 

This major investment will leave owner, fanbase and manager alike wanting a near-instant impact and the pressure falls not just on the World Cup star either, but also on Graham Potter. 

Potter has key decisions to make now

Managing a club whose supporters have grown used to fighting it out at the top brings an enormous level of scrutiny – something that the ex-Brighton boss was emphatically reminded of when visiting fans chanted the name of predecessor Thomas Tuchel in the 4-0 FA Cup defeat to Manchester City early in January.

Big decisions await, such as who to leave out of the squad for the upcoming Champions League knockout rounds, given Chelsea can only register three new players for the competition. 

With eight signings made, including a loan for Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix and permanent moves for Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile and Noni Madueke of PSV, Potter faces a major headache in fitting so much added talent into his squad.

The hangover from the massive spend of the Tuchel era makes the task even more unenviable as the under-fire helmsman continues to adjust to a role a world away from his job at over-performing Brighton.

Derby revenge on offer

Chelsea are next in action in Friday evening’s West London derby with Fulham, who are performing well under Marco Silva, though Potter’s side do go into the meeting as 4/7 favourites. 

The promoted Cottagers have lost two league games on the bounce coming into the clash but still sit seventh, having beaten Chelsea three weeks ago on Felix’s ill-fated debut, culminating in a red card for the Portugal man and a 2-1 defeat for his side.

Four points since then – a win at home to Crystal Palace and a goalless draw at Liverpool – mean Chelsea can go three unbeaten as they prepare for their European last-16 away leg at Dortmund on 15th February.

At 16/1, the Blues are seventh in the outright Champions League betting, but glory in Istanbul in June – however unlikely – would make the £107m splashed on Fernandez a worthwhile investment indeed.

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