In Focus: Brilliant Broja stating case for Blues recall
Armando Broja’s move to Southampton flew under the radar in the summer — but he has certainly made an impression on the South Coast.
The 20-year-old signed a long-term extension with Chelsea before joining Saints on a season-long loan back in August.
All eyes at St Mary’s were firmly fixed on new £15million frontman Adam Armstrong following the departure of Danny Ings to Aston Villa.
However, at the midway point of the campaign, Broja is Southampton’s second-top scorer in the Premier League behind James Ward-Prowse.
Ahead of tonight’s Premier League match against Brentford, we take a look at how the Albania international has forced his way into Ralph Hasenhuttl’s starting XI.
The right fit
During his time in charge of RB Leipzig, Hasenhuttl often favoured a physical presence in attack alongside a speedster in his 4-2-2-2 shape.
In Germany, he paired Timo Werner with Yussuf Poulsen in what was very much a traditional little and large partnership.
Up until this season, that had been lacking at Southampton. He often started two hard-working strikers in Danny Ings and Che Adams and, though they did well, they are very similar in style.
There was never an old-school target man who could act as a focal point for the team — and Broja fits that bill to perfection.
The 6ft 3in forward is a handful. He is the ideal foil for the likes of Armstrong, Adams and even Shane Long.
It was always going to be a matter of when, not if, he would force his way into Hasenhuttl’s team.
Making the most of an opportunity
Last month, Hasenhuttl explained how Broja gives him a number of options.
He said: "He is good as a sub and he has also shown in the past that he can start. He's got four goals after starting so good, good average to be honest.
"He grabbed a chance because of Che's injury. He was there and he did everything to help him get a chance again.
"This is what you have to do as a young player."
Those sorts of breaks can define a young prospect’s career.
Broja made the most of his chance in the starting XI and forced his way into the first-team picture well ahead of schedule.
Many now consider him to be the best option at the club and his rise provides insight into the sort of individual he is.
Southampton’s No18 is certainly not there just to make up the numbers.
Broja spent last season on loan with Vitesse in the Eredivisie and finished the campaign with 10 league goals.
Despite his tender years, he has the nous of a seasoned goalscorer — knowing where to position himself and the importance of timing.
His shot map this season (above) shows that he is having a number of efforts in good areas and all but three of his attempts have come from inside the penalty box.
He actually ranks ninth in the Premier League for shots on target per 90 minutes this season with 1.37.
What makes this even more impressive is that he is hitting those heights in his debut English top-flight season in a mid-table team where he is not a guaranteed starter.
Premier League ready
Adapting to the Premier League can be a struggle, as Chelsea striker Timo Werner outlined when discussing his first year at Stamford Bridge.
He said: "At the beginning, I had this self-image that I can go on doing my thing here, but in the last few months I have been brought down to earth.
"It’s the way in England that you never have a quiet game. The players are 1.9 meters tall, brutal physically and really fast — including the defenders.
"It’s impressive what intensity is going on in the Premier League."
But in contrast to Werner, Broja has adapted seamlessly.
He is in the division’s top 10 players for aerial duels won (4.74 per 90) and he is in the top 15 for possessions won in the attacking third (1.12 per 90).
The 10-cap international is also in the top 20 for take-ons attempted (3.99) and completed (2.25) per 90 minutes.
Having spent £97.5m on Romelu Lukaku, few envisaged Chelsea needing a centre-forward in the near future.
But the Belgian being dropped for a key clash against Liverpool after making his unhappiness well known in an interview, means there is uncertainty at Stamford Bridge.
Broja is not yet in the same league as Lukaku as a powerful No9 but they are a lot closer than initial impressions may suggest.
If the prodigious frontman continues his current form across the remainder of the season, Thomas Tuchel may look at him as a viable option in attack.
Not only are there question marks over Lukaku’s future at the club, but Werner and Kai Havertz are yet to truly settle in West London.
Broja’s big chance with the Blues may come sooner than anyone initially expected.