Chelsea’s late move for Cuadrado deemed a necessity by the Shy One

Square peg in round hole? Fiorentina's Cuadrado - which means 'square' in Spanish - is set to join Chelsea in a £26million deal

Square peg in round hole? Cuadrado – which means ‘square’ in Spanish – is set to join Chelsea 

  • Chelsea set to unveil the £26m signing of Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina before Saturday’s match against Manchester City
  • Colombia international to undergo medical and gain international clearance ahead of Monday’s transfer deadline day
  • 26-year-old midfielder bade farewell to his team-mates at La Viola in private on Friday
  • Mohamed Salah and Andre Schürrle heading for the Stamford Bridge exit to make way for new arrival

Ever since Jose Mourinho lamented two points dropped against Southampton in last year’s final round of Premier League fixtures, things haven’t quite gone according to plan for Chelsea.

The Portuguese manager described referee Anthony Taylor’s decision to wave away what he deemed a clear foul by Matt Targett on Cesc Fabregas as a ‘scandal’, incurring a £25,000 fine earlier this week from the FA, with whom his relationship is at a new low after Diego Costa’s three-match ban for violent conduct was upheld by an independent disciplinary panel on Friday.

Mourinho’s plea that the incident involving Costa and Liverpool’s Emre Can was ‘completely accidental’ fell on deaf ears, and subsequently he has given the media the Marshawn Lynch treatment, snubbing the obligatory press call ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Manchester City.

Chelsea may have lost that battle – and the repercussions of Costa’s absence will be known after he has served his suspension – but they won the war on Tuesday, navigating a way past Liverpool to set up a re-run of the 2008 League Cup Final against Tottenham in a month’s time.

That goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was named man of the match in both legs will not have gone unnoticed by the media-shy Mourinho, and with last weekend’s surprise FA Cup home defeat to League One Bradford City adding to the recent 5-3 loss to Spurs, it is not surprising that he has looked to offload one of the culprits and in turn strengthen his squad before Monday’s transfer deadline.

Rather than ramping up the siege mentality on Friday, whereby no one likes them but they don’t care, the club and its manager did what they have done so spectacularly during the Abramovich years and spent.

Sky Italia broke the news yesterday that following negotiations undertaken by his agent, Alessandro Lucci, Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado will take a 7am private jet to London today for a medical and sign a lucrative four-and-a-half-year deal with the West London club.

Star turn: No Fiorentina player has been directly involved in more goals (8) than Cuadrado in Serie A this season (28.6%) [Source: Squawka]

Star turn: No Fiorentina player has been directly involved in more goals (8) than Cuadrado in Serie A this season (28.6%) [Source: Squawka]

The winger will be present at the Premier League leaders’ match against champions Manchester City this evening before flying back to Italy, where he will await international clearance.

Cuadrado has long been in Mourinho’s sights, since before his stellar performances for Colombia at last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, where he registered more assists – four – than any other player, and he will be in line to make his debut for his new team at Aston Villa next Saturday.

Vincenzo Montella, the Florence-based club’s manager, has been quoted as saying: “I want to be honest. It [the sale of Cuadrado] was something that had to be done. As a coach I’m sorry because technically he is such a good player but the club has made ​​the right decision.”

Mohamed Salah will head in the other direction without demanding a fee, allowing Chelsea to secure Cuadrado’s services for £23.3m – a compromise on the £26.1m buy-out clause La Viola were demanding.

Montella admitted that he is not quite getting a like-for-like player in Salah, who had been limited to 13 appearances with the Blues after arriving a year ago from Basel, but as important in paving the way for the player switch is the imminent £23m departure of Andre Schürrle to Wolfsburg.

Mourinho’s second coming has been every bit as punctuated by pragmatic performances as his first, but his transfer dealings have been far more astute, making this late shuffling of his cards all the more intriguing.

Always one to make bold decisions in his managerial career, Mourinho will hope this is another case of acting swiftly when it mattered: what he described as a ‘disgraceful’ loss to Bradford was avoided against Liverpool more by luck than design, and his move for Cuadrado – who will be available for Champions League duty – is indicative of a conviction in a starting eleven seldom tinkered with until now that has been tempered by events of the last month.

In need of reinforcements: Mourinho oversaw a second-string side crash out of the FA Cup to Bradford

In need of reinforcements: Mourinho oversaw his second-string crash out of the FA Cup to Bradford

While it was in the January transfer window last year that Mourinho approved the return of Nemanja Matic at Stamford Bridge, it was believed that the Chelsea manager would not use this month to do business, but rather earmark players to pursue in the summer.

“For me that is the perfect situation,” Mourinho said last November. “I don’t want people to leave. I don’t want people to come in. We started our project this way, and I’d like to go until the end. If other teams do it in January, good for them.

“No problem for me. It will not be something I will use, saying: ‘These guys spend £30million more.’ They can spend what they want and what they can. Hopefully everything goes okay and we have no emergency needs for January.”

The slightly haphazard nature of his side’s recent showings – the 5-0 demolition of Swansea aside – would hardly class as an emergency in the minds of most Premier League managers, but for Mourinho, with his side hoping to open up an eight-point lead over their nearest rivals at Saturday tea-time, his decision to seek and obtain a player on the eve of the deadline speaks volumes of his refusal to believe that anything is decided by the end of January.

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With the majority of Cuadrado’s transfer fee being met by Schürrle’s return to Germany, this is the latest episode in Chelsea’s attempts to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules in their transfer dealings.

The next question on everyone’s lips is where the new recruit – nicknamed ‘Vespa’ during his time in Tuscany due to his ability to weave in and out of defenders like the scooter on a busy Italian street – fits into Mourinho’s well-established 4-2-3-1 system at the Bridge.

It would be mischievous to say ‘very well’, given his previous in the art of diving. Last season, the former Udinese player was sent off in a Serie A game against Napoli for receiving two yellow cards – both for simulation.

And given how Colombia’s national team endeared itself to the footballing world as much through their goal celebrations as their results out in Brazil, Cuadrado will feel right at home dancing the cha-cha alongside Ramires, Oscar and Willian down Fulham Road.

Only time will tell; the uncharacteristically meek Mourinho has chosen not to make a song and dance about freshening up his squad at the eleventh hour, but nor has he left his search for a third Premier League title to chance.

Who is Chelsea new-boy Juan Cuadrado?

Gerardo Lemos, Colombian International Sports Correspondent for several South American outlets:   

Cuadrado is a very versatile forward with explosive speed. This would be really important for Mourinho’s team.  Currently, Chelsea plays a 4-2-3-1 formation and Mourinho needs a player with the nimble footwork of Cuadrado behind Diego Costa.

He’s the kind of player that likes to set short and long term goals both collectively and as an individual. He can assist, and he can score and more importantly, he is a very coachable footballer.

His arrival will bring that unique spice the Cafeteros have and everybody was able to see during the World Cup in Brazil. In addition, he will not only bring new options in the attack, he will also learn from Mourinho and his team mates.

Cuadrado is not just a an offensive player, but he also provides defensive cover. In the last World Cup Qualifiers, he showed his defensive attributes and I’m sure Chelsea will be happy with his work ethic tracking back, especially Ivanovic on the right side.

Liverpool’s resurgence continues as the promise of Markovic emerges

Red Star rising: Serbian Markovic helped Liverpool to another win - the Reds have now lost only one of their last nine Premier League games

Red Star rising: Serbian Markovic helped Liverpool to another win – the Reds have now lost only one of their last nine Premier League games

There are worse places to be than along the turquoise shores of the Caribbean this time of year, but for Brendan Rodgers, a deserving victory on a windswept Wearside that has maintained his side’s push for European qualification will feel every bit as sweet.

Rodgers has developed a reputation for being the Liverpool manager of risks – but his latest decision to roll the dice, allowing Raheem Sterling his own extended winter break in Jamaica, was a gamble which paid off as his troops dug out a 1-0 win against ten-man Sunderland.

On this evidence, Sterling is not the only 20-year-old starlet in Rodgers’ ranks whose explosive talent is worthy of being re-charged by the occasional sprinkling of tropical sunshine.

Winter break: Raheem Sterling was afforded time to recuperate, and the England star took to his Instagram to post precisely where he went.

Winter break: Raheem Sterling was afforded time to recuperate, and the England star took to his Instagram to post precisely where he went.

In the absence of Sterling and Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic took his opportunity to glisten at the Stadium of Light, with a performance as illuminating as Liverpool’s yellow shirts.

The visitors should have had a penalty inside two minutes. Markovic fell under the challenge of Wes Brown after latching onto Philippe Coutinho’s through-ball. Craig Pawson and his far-side assistant were unmoved, but replays showed there was clear contact with the Serbian winger’s right leg.

No bother. Markovic dusted himself off and put Liverpool in front six minutes later. Naturally, man of the moment Steven Gerrard was involved, instigating the move with a ball into the feet of Fabio Borini. The Italian striker, a pivotal figure towards the latter stages of last season in Sunderland’s successful escape from relegation, was fouled by John O’Shea on the edge of the area, but Pawson played the advantage as the ball fell kindly for Markovic, who kept his composure to stab the ball beneath the giant figure of Costel Pantilimon.

This was Markovic’s finest hour in a Liverpool shirt. Signed for £20 million from Portuguese side Benfica last summer, the Serbian’s star potential has only flickered intermittently until now, his sending-off against Basel in his side’s early Champions League exit typical of his frustrating start to life on Merseyside.

Off the Mark: Lazar Markovic scored his first league goal for Liverpool since arriving from Benfica as the Reds won 1-0 at Sunderland.

Off the Mark: Lazar Markovic scored his first league goal for Liverpool since arriving from Benfica as the Reds won 1-0 at Sunderland.

But his early strike would prove the difference and he came agonizingly close to scoring one of the goals of the season shortly afterwards. Sunderland failed to clear a corner, and when the ball arrived at Markovic, he expertly positioned his body from 25 yards out with the acrobatics reminiscent of that Luis Suarez strike against Arsenal last season, to unleash a venomous strike that rebounded off the underside of the bar and fortuitously wide of goal via the back of Pantilimon.

Sunderland, despite the aid of a gusty wind on their backs in the first half, offered little danger to Liverpool’s goal in an opening period that lacked any fluidity. The Black Cats’ 75 chances created at home this season prior to the game was the fewest of any Premier League side, and their lack of creativity again stultified the atmosphere of the 44,000 present.

The isolated figure of Connor Wickham was starved of any service, and the midfield engine room was palpably missing the tenacity and spark of the absent Lee Cattermole and Jack Rodwell.

For Liverpool, the media focus may remain on a protracted exit of Gerrard between now and the end of the season, but there was no signs of his supporting cast lurking in his shadow here.

Lucas Leiva, who had been linked in the morning papers with a move to Inter Milan, retained his place alongside Henderson in deep-lying midfield roles, allowing Coutinho, Gerrard and Markovic to wreak havoc in the attacking third.

The visitors were winning every battle. Coutinho found Henderson, but the former Sunderland man was penalized for controlling the ball with his hand before crashing the ball against Pantilimon’s left-hand post. Gerrard was next to fancy his chances, first rifling the ball into the side-netting before forcing the Romanian stopper into a smart save low down.

Borini missed a glorious chance to double Liverpool’s advantage on the stroke of half-time when put through by Emre Can. The former Chelsea striker had scored only once from 23 shots this season, but with five of his last eight league goals coming on Wearside, few inside the ground would have expected him to put his finish wide after rounding Pantilimon.

The half-time whistle couldn’t have come soon enough for Gus Poyet, his side second to every ball, easily hounded out of the limited possession they could wrestle from their sprightly opponents and flattered by only the one-goal deficit at the break.

Sunderland were kept in for a prolonged team-talk by Poyet, and the sight of Gerrard not retuning for the restart, due to a ‘tightness in one of his legs’, may have provided extra incentive to the hosts. But it appeared any plans of a frantic response upon the game’s resumption was curtailed within four minutes by the dismissal of Liam Bridcutt after a foul on Can.

The former Brighton midfielder could have few complaints about his two bookable offences, having cynically fouled Gerrard earlier in the match, but Poyet showed no desire to plug the hole and the set-back initially galvanized the home side. Adam Johnson, who had been a peripheral figure until the sending-off, rattled the crossbar with a swerving shot that bamboozled Simon Mignolet.

With less of a defensive shield in front of Sunderland’s defence, Liverpool looked to pick off their opponents on the break, with the influence of chief conspirator Coutinho increasing upon the introduction of Mario Balotelli with 20 minutes remaining.

Sunderland remained in the game until the end courtesy of the slender advantage Liverpool held, but the side’s lack of penetration that has been its Achilles heel all season made this a comfortable final quarter for Rodgers.

For Poyet and Sunderland, who remain three points above the drop zone ahead of Saturday’s remaining Premier League fixtures, if any further evidence of the need to invest in greater attacking options was required for the club’s director of football Lee Congerton, this was it.

New Year, Same Old Blue Feeling For Martinez

Hull and back: Nikica Jelavic doubles Hull's lead against his former club

To Hull and back: Nikica Jelavic doubles the Tigers’ lead against his former club

It never rains but it pours. A new year but the same old problems for Roberto Martinez. Defeat in Humbershire against a well-organised Hull consigned his Everton side to their fourth consecutive Premier League defeat – their fifth on the bounce on the road – leaving the Toffees four points off the relegation zone.

Steve Bruce had been under similar pressure entering the game – the home defeat to rock-bottom Leicester far from ideal in light of the growing rumours linking him to the imminently vacant job at Newcastle United, his boyhood club.

Yet the former Sunderland manager quashed speculation yesterday, and his Tigers came out fighting – having won only three home league games in 2014 – to avoid an increasing air of crisis at the KC Stadium; a state of affairs that now very much engulfs the blue half of Merseyside.

For Everton, it is fairly obvious where the problem lies. The Blues have now gone 10 games without a clean sheet in the league, and have now conceded only six less than in the entire of last season.

Tim Howard, Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka have been mainstays in the defence Martinez inherited from predecessor David Moyes, but for the quartet to turn from experienced to aged so drastically has now come home to roost.

Evergreen Everton this is not. With another over-30 Antolin Alcaraz now suspended, the return of John Stones cannot come soon enough. Looking to the injury-prone 20-year-old as the saviour tells its own story.

Incoming: Ahmed Elmohamady's 33rd-minute opener exploited Everton's inability to defend crosses this season

Incoming: Ahmed Elmohamady’s 33rd-minute opener exploited Everton’s inability to defend crosses this season

Following the first of the festive substandard showings at Southampton, Martinez vowed to stick to his principles of playing expansive football, only to admit after defeat at Newcastle that he needed his side to ‘go back to basics’.

Yet the Spaniard then chose to play a three-man defence in the dismal opening 45 minutes at the KC Stadium, as Hull opened up an unassailable two-goal lead. Indeed, the first-half saw the side regress further from the Everton of last season, and closer to the soft-centered Wigan Athletic which continue to drop like a stone in English football.

To some that isn’t surprising, given that injuries have left the core of the side comprising of the Latics players Martinez took with him up the M58 18 months ago, all four of whom started in the equally disappointing 3-2 reverse at St James’ Park last Sunday.

The festive period sees games come thick and fast, and the negative momentum that can accumulate from one defeat to the next can turn the task of management into a living nightmare for even the most positive of motivators.

Both Leicester and Sunderland showed their battling spirit in coming from two goals behind to level in their respective 2015 bows, but the jury is out on whether the current group of players at Goodison have the same appetite for an increasingly plausible relegation scrap.

There is little indication that Martinez will have cash to spend in the January transfer window, having parted with £28m to secure the services of Romelu Lukaku, and Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and Gareth Barry penning lavish contracts last summer.

With each passing setback, the column inches devoted to the usual suspects being linked with a move away from Finch Farm shall grow. Kevin Mirallas has already admitted his dream of playing in the Champions League, and both Coleman and the absent James McCarthy may well start to question their long-term futures at a club which is currently not befitting of their ambition and undoubted potential.

On the terraces and among the Twitterati, there is growing despair. For a loyal, studious fan base, the current predicament is beyond the pale. The notorious challenge of combining a successful Europa League campaign with a quest for Champions League qualification simply doesn’t wash over the Christmas period.

All sides are in the same boat with the relentless waves of matches, but as the current plight of the club testifies, the strength in depth to cater for the latest bout of soft-tissue injuries runs thin.

It is nine years since Everton supporters have experienced such an unhealthy run of form, as an ailing squad continues to struggle through a winter of discontent. When players from other leagues on the continent enjoy time away with their families, this appears precisely what Martinez requires from his staff – sick of the sight of them, sick of feeling blue.

In the season of board games, he has never looked like winning this round of Cluedo; never looked like finding whodunnit, with what, and where.

However much Martinez has shuffled his starting line-up, he is yet to find the winning combination of players in the attacking third, seemingly oblivious to the continual decline of Barry, stumped by where best to deploy Barkley, out of his depth with managing a fallen star such as Samuel Eto’o.

Fall guy: Ross Barkley was fortunate not to be booked for simulation, having already been accused of diving this campaign

Fall guy: Ross Barkley was fortunate not to be booked for simulation, having already been accused of diving this campaign

When Barkley was played alongside Muhammad Besic in midfield against QPR at the start of last month, there appeared the start of a glistening relationship – which has yet to be replicated – and the unexplained omission of Luke Garbutt after a promising performance against Newcastle will be another bone of contention for 3,000 Evertonians on their return across the Pennines this evening.

The Toffees need to regroup at a time when there is little time to regroup; a stroke of fortune when it would seem that Lady Luck has deserted them. Attention now turns to appeasing home supporters with another good FA Cup run, with West Ham travelling to Merseyside on Tuesday night for the Third Round fixture.

But a combination of the growing fear that the R word has now crept into the manager’s thoughts, and the sheer lack of options away from the treatment table at his disposal, may see Martinez prioritize the league.

The feel-good atmosphere around Goodison during the summer months, when a tilt at the top four was expected is now replaced with a desperate need to consolidate top-flight status.

Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, the club’s Latin motto, is certainly ringing hollow currently, and to be satisfied now with a good run in Thursday night football is undoubtedly not enough for proud Everton supporters, nor the best that this historic club can muster.