Transfer Talk: Why Chelsea's defence is crying out for a Gvard-ian
Josko Gvardiol is reportedly on Chelsea’s radar — and the Croatian’s sparkling World Cup performances have only added fuel to rumours of a Stamford Bridge switch.
The 20-year-old ace has been equally impressive at club level with RB Leipzig, resulting in plenty of interest from Europe’s elite clubs.
As a left-footed central defender who can also operate at left-back, Gvardiol’s profile is highly sought after by a plethora of top managers.
Ahead of Croatia’s last-16 clash with Japan, we take a look at whether Chelsea — or another Premier League side — could come calling in January.
RB Leipzig endured a stuttering start to the season but have regained form and risen to third in the Bundesliga.
That surge up the table is in no small part down to Gvardiol’s influence.
He sets the tempo from deep, acting as a hub through which play flows — no player has attempted (84.23) or completed (75.04) more passes per 90 minutes in Germany’s top tier than the Zagreb native.
Additionally, his 95.07 touches per 90 can only be bettered by Bayern Munich pair Joshua Kimmich and Benjamin Pavard.
Champions League quality
That influence has extended to Leipzig’s form in the Champions League as well.
The Germans lost their first two games with Gvardiol on the bench but won each of the next four with him playing the full 90 minutes. He even scored his only goal of the season in the dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid.
The world stage
Gvardiol has carried his club form with him to the World Cup.
On the global stage, his defensive qualities have been called upon more frequently. He ranks inside the tournament’s top 20 players for possessions won in the defensive third (12) and clearances completed (17).
The 15-cap international has not let that detract from his primary gifts, though, ranking similarly highly for passes attempted (228) and completed (205).
Gvardiol is excelling with a side that have, so far, been less able to dominate the ball as effectively as Leipzig do in the Bundesliga. That has only raised his stock further in Qatar.
Gvardiol has done little to dispel rumours of eventually moving on — suggesting he may end up at Chelsea in the future.
Speaking after Croatia’s final group stage match against Belgium, he said: "About me and Chelsea? I don't know. To be honest, I have no idea.
"My agent is taking care of this and we will see. Right now, I'm happy in Leipzig. I don't know, we will see — you never know.
"You know the stories and these things but all I can say is that I'm happy in Leipzig and right now I'm going to stay there and perform for them.
"It's a big club of course and, who knows, maybe one day I will be there. It's really nice to see things like this, especially because there is [Mateo] Kovacic, so you never know. I talk with him."
Chelsea do not boast a naturally left-footed centre-back in their ranks and have several defenders over the age of 30, such as Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Kalidou Koulibaly.
Gvardiol, who can play comfortably in a back four or three, would be a perfect fit for the Blues and would bring their rearguard's average age down significantly.
But the West Londoners may not get a free run at the versatile Croatian, with Manchester City and Real Madrid among other clubs credited with an interest.