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Who is Matheus Nunes? The Kovacic-esque ball progressor linked to Chelsea

Posted on July 08, 2022

With Chelsea closing in on the signing of Raheem Sterling, the Blues are finally set to make a splash in the transfer market. Todd Boehly's takeover at the end of May lifted all restrictions surrounding the club, but it's taken over a month for the west London side to invest in the squad.

Romelu Lukau's return to Inter saw Chelsea step up their interest in Sterling with Thomas Tuchel adding a selfless forward who'll aid the attacking press, something the former did little to contribute towards. The Blues still need to strengthen in defence following the departures of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen for Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, but another port of call for Tuchel is supposedly the midfield.

Considering N'Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic's injury issues last season, coupled with the former turning 32 next March, it's no shock that Tuchel is reportedly looking to strengthen in the position. Given Chelsea's dip in form during the latter's absence from the starting XI, another driving force from deep is important to help add some attacking thrust from the middle of the park.

Kovacic may not have added much in the way of goals or assists for Tuchel's side - the Croat was directly involved in just seven league goals last season, netting twice - but his absence robbed Chelsea of a key man in midfield. Indeed, their win ratio dropped from 68.7% to 45.5% when Kovacic didn't start in the Premier League, so too did the number of goals scored per game, that falling to 1.59 from 2.56. To be linked with another ball carrying central midfield shouldn't come as a surprise with Sporting CP star Matheus Nunes reportedly on Chelsea's radar.

Portugal has been the hunting ground for Europe's top teams already this year. Darwin Nunez followed Luis Diaz to Liverpool, while French giants PSG have secured Vitinha's services. The latter's former Porto teammate Fabio Vieira has also left, moving to Arsenal, and the young midfielder could well be joined in the capital by Nunes.

Like Kovacic, Nunes didn't contribute massively in the final third for Sporting CP in Liga Bwin last season, scoring three times and providing a further two assists, but he was incredibly important in the middle of the park for the Lisbon outfit. The Portugal international was the ball carrier for Ruben Amorim's side having completed more dribbles (81) than any other player in Liga Bwin last season.

Crucially still is that he was incredibly consistent when he did get going. A dribble success rate of 70.4% was the third best of the 59 players to attempt 50 or more dribbles in Liga Bwin last season. While Kovacic didn't rank highly for total dribbles completed given a lack of game time, a return of 2.2 per 90 was the eighth best in the Premier League last season.

Importantly, thought, was that, like Nunes, Kovacic was hugely effective at ghosting past an opponent. A dribble success rate of 74.5% was the best of all central midfielders, and second overall of the 84 players to attempt 50 or more dribbles. The similarities between the two central midfielders means it does make sense for Chelsea to be credited with an interest in Nunes.

In addition, the Portuguese midfielder has the experience that comes with playing in a three-man defence. Amorim used the system in all 34 league matches last season, with Nunes abiding to his instructions well. This would be a huge boost for Tuchel should he wish to continue with a three-man backline for the coming campaign. Much of that does depend on Chelsea's centre-back pursuit, yet Nunes' experience in the driving role in a similar system means the demands of progressing the play wouldn't be lost on the 23-year-old. Having ranked fourth for possession won in the midfield third (123), too, he is more than capable of winning the ball for his side, so has the defensive nous to operate successfully in a midfield pair.

Of course, playing in such a system needs top quality centre-backs, and at present, Tuchel doesn't have the luxury given the aforementioned exits of Rudiger and Christensen, yet Nunes would be a solid acquisition to bolster the midfield ranks, and importantly one that adopts a similar progressive style as Kovacic. While perhaps not a priority for Chelsea, if Sporting CP are prepared to listen to offers for Nunes, then the west London side would certainly benefit from a player of his skillset in the squad.