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West Ham 20:00 Chelsea

Opta Jury: Michael Essien

By Duncan Alexander.   Last Updated: 13/04/06 3:47pm

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Being the record signing at a club with the wealth of Chelsea is a lot of pressure to bear, but Mickael Essien seems to be coping well at Stamford Bridge as he nears the end of his first season in London.

It took a monstrous fee of over £24 million to prise the Ghanaian from Lyon last summer but Jose Mourinho had identified the midfielder as a key signing for the English champions, and the deal was duly done.

Essien's name became increasingly synonymous with quality during the 2004-05 season as he powered Lyon into the UEFA Champions League quarter finals with a series of monstrous performances for the French side. He bagged five goals in the tournament, a total that only six players (all of them strikers) could better, and his price tag rose with every round of fixtures as the European giants circled him with covetous intent.

Player Mickael Essien  
Team Lyon Chelsea
Season 2004-05 2005-06
Competition Champions League Premiership
Appearances 10 28
Time Played 930 2,184
Goal Attempts    
Goals 5 1
Shots On Target 11 10
Shots Off Target 10 29
Shooting Accuracy 52% 26%
Chance Conversion 24% 3%
Goal Assists 0 1
Total Passes 490 1,310
Pass Completion % 82% 85%
Tackles Made 44 98
Tackles Won % 59% 80%
Fouls 21 44
Yellow Cards 0 5
Red Cards 0 0

Goalscoring duties have largely fallen to other players at Chelsea this season, (Essien's sole Premiership strike coming against Spurs in March) but his accurate passing and fierce tackling (both an improvement on his 2004-05 Champions League stats) have added yet more steel to the champions' muscular midfield.

Essien has occasionally transgressed this season, and five Premiership bookings attest to this fact. The real controversy, however, came when he committed a horrendous foul on Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann in the Champions League group stage but was not shown a card. He was retrospectively punished by Uefa with a two game ban, arguably a key factor in Chelsea failing to progress to the quarter finals.

The Ghanaian has also fallen out of favour with his national side after pulling out of the African Cup of Nations in January with an injury. His rapid return to the Chelsea team once the tournament had finished raised suspicion in Accra and it remains to be seen whether he will make the country's World Cup squad.

Nevertheless, Essien is still only 23 years old and if he continues to improve at his current rate, then he will surely become one of the pre-eminent midfielders in European football in the coming seasons.

What do you think? Has Essien been a hit, a miss or is the jury still out?



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