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  • Alessandro Schiavone

Why Lille star Jonathan David is the ideal fit for Chelsea's goal-shy attack next season

Exclusive by Alessandro Schiavone in Lille

Jonathan David proved once again why he’s such hot property when his Lille team dismantled Estac Troyes 5-1 at Stade Pierre Mauroy on Sunday evening.

The Chelsea target scored twice and was a bundle of energy throughout as his superb industry, kamikaze intensity and vision were outstanding. Added to that, his for-a-striker rare ability to have a playmaker’s vision while at the same time possessing a growing influence inside the box did the rest.

And with former Lille stars Rafael Leao and Victor Oshimen taking Serie A by storm and Sven Botman’s defensive solidity being a big part of Newcastle’s rise from the ashes, the omens are good for Chelsea should they swoop.

It proves that Lille players can also give outstanding accounts of themselves in more pressurised and high-stakes environments and perhaps more competitive divisions.

David, no doubt, is the perfect fit for goal-shy Chelsea as his ability to link play with his superb range of passing and cleverness make him a player-and-a-half. In England, barring Harry Kane and few others, it’s rare to find a player of his ilk.

Yet detractors may now point to David’s inconsistency at the end of last season and an unconvincing FIFA World Cup with Canada in which he failed to score a single goal.

But the latter could be good news for Chelsea, who have just splashed out a mind-boggling sum for Mykailo Mudryk, as his market value would surely have gone through the roof had his goals helped Canada progress deeper into the competition.

In fact, if Sunday’s game is anything to go by, there are few doubts that he’s more and more becoming a Premier League type of player. And unlike in the past when he made rookie mistakes in front of goal, against Troyes he only had two goalscoring chances and buried both of them. That points to an improvement of his finishing touch, which was often affected by dwindling sharpness, due to his incredible work rate, more than an ability to put chances away itself.

But no mistake should be made, because he is not yet a refined killer or an out-and-out centre-forward like club legends Didier Drogba or Diego Costa were.

To his advantage, he is a more complete, modern attacker who can do everything, from making goals to setting others up, from poaching to creating a chance for himself, from countering effectively to spreading play. He is indispensable to Lille’s attacking display as he gives boss Paulo Fonseca the opportunity to play in many different ways, often leaving no reference to the opposition as he’s not a conventional target man. Besides, he’s also more interested in being at the heart of everything his side creates rather than just reap the rewards of it by finishing things off. That level of generosity is so rare to find in an attacker.

Against Troyes, he partnered Mohamed Bayo up-front but the versatile Chelsea target mostly played off the former Clermont man and was seen dictating play from central positions from start to finish.

Making him such an interesting profile is the fact that he’s very difficult to mark out of the game. He's extremely unselfish in that he doesn’t just wait for the ball to fall to his feet. But instead comes short, with his back to goal, and loves involving wingers and midfielders, often playing a one-two before either setting someone up or going for it himself. Besides, he’s also not a player any manager can easily decide to man mark or instruct his players to cut off the supply lines to prevent the ball from reaching him. Because David loves to copy Andrea Pirlo and Andres Iniesta by retreating deep, often as far as into his own half, to go and get the ball himself and make things happen.

Very often when Lille transition he can be found in deeper positions before releasing his teammates into space. But once he's done that, he speeds forward to wait for a cutback or a fortunate flick he can pounce on. Yesterday he combined effectively with wing-backs Edon Zhegrova and Timothy Weah who were then free to beat their men down the flanks. And the first goal he scored is a perfect illustrion of what he's about.

Depending on the situation of the game, especially when Lille build up their play slowly, he can also make a nuisance of himself with runs in behind or find gaps between the lines. In fact he also excels at creating spaces for those around through his movement.

And as revealed earlier, his generosity makes him stand out from many of his counterparts. Whether he scores or sets others up, nothing changes for him personally. He puts the team's success before personal glory. And that is best reflected in his willingness to fight for every loose ball and give a hand defensively on set-pieces and from open play, especially when his side is under the cosh. Incredibly, the 22-year-old puts his body on the line game by game and for a player who covers such a huge amount of ground he’s remarkably still sharp in the latter stages.

David may not be someone who wows the crowd with his outrageous set of skills but rather someone every manager would love to have because he’s so important to his team.

It’s in Chelsea’s interest to steal a march on the competition by signing him up for next season. Sure, he’d have to adapt his game because playing in front of a trio consisting of Mount, Mykhailo Mudryk and Christopher Nkunku means that he would be more of a finisher than creator himself. But again, he has two important aces up his sleeve in the name of versatility and quick learning.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struggling for form and potentially on his way in the summer, Raheem Sterling preferring to play on the wing and Joao Felix’s loan deal unlikely to be extended, Chelsea should go all-in for the 22-year-old because he’s the missing piece in the jigsaw and would represent the club’s long-term future.

Yesterday was an absolute joy to watch him and the brace he netted was just the icing on the cake.

In the first period, he played a sweet weighted pass into the path of Bayo who failed to lift it over Mateusz Lis. But his excellent reading of the game enabled him to be in the right position for the rebound and tap the ball into a gaping net.

Lille were then in complete ascendancy, going on to score a further three, with David looking the real deal on and off the ball. And his second goal was just a matter of time. Following a hesitation by Troyes goalkeeper, he timed his run to perfection at the near post following a cross to make it 4-1 two minutes from time. The goal in itself would not have been anything spectacular had he not put in such an impressive shift for 88 minutes.

A while ago doubts still lingered over his end product. And there was a general belief that he stayed at Lille because the big continental guns feared he would not be able to finish what his team creates and eventually cost his side lots of points.

Yet, in the 5-1 trashing against the Stade de l’Aube outfit, the former Gent prodigy showed that he hasn’t only come a long way in terms of putting chances away but he’s just the perfect second striker who rolls up his sleeves and takes care of business. He's two players rolled into one. A great midfielder and a good finisher.

Time to get your man before others jump in, Todd Boehly and Graham Potter


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