Eric McCoy weighs in on Chelsea’s Charly Musonda, who could be the next Belgian patrolling the touchline at Stamford Bridge.
Some goals mean more than others. Goals that win leagues, goals that win cups, and goals that ripple the backs of nets in second half stoppage time generally linger longer in players’ and supporters’ memories than your average, run-of-the-mill goal in a mid-September match. Even when accounting for an individual’s unique sensibilities, a goal that puts a team 3-0 up in a third round League Cup tie should not be a goal that means much of anything to anyone.
Counterpoint: Charly Musonda Jr.’s goal that put Chelsea three goals to the good on Nottingham Forrest in the first half of last month’s third round League Cup match between the two teams. Musonda’s reaction to netting his first Chelsea senior-team goal in his first senior-team start was joy in its purest, most undistilled form. And to be fair to Musonda, the goal itself was a tad bit better than ‘run-of-the-mill.’
After a very much on-brand exquisite pass from Cesc Fabregas, Musonda found himself in good, but not great position to the left of Forest goalkeeper Stephen Henderson. With defender Michael Mancienne quickly closing him down, the slight-framed Musonda snapped a forceful shot that bounced just in front of the diving Henderson’s outstretched right hand into the back of the net. Musonda then spun around and sprinted with his arms spread wide before collapsing onto the Stamford Bridge turf, visibly emotional.
Contributing to the outpouring of emotion on the pitch from Musonda and in the stands from the raucously celebrating supporters was the fact that first-team opportunities for youth players at Chelsea have been notably scarce in the Roman Abramovich-era. In Musonda however, Chelsea may just have a player whose talents are too great to keep out of the first team.
Who is Charly Musonda Jr.?
Musonda was born in Brussels, Belgium and is just 20 years old, but he’s been on the radar of prominent European clubs for some time. While in Anderlecht’s youth setup at 14 years of age, an article in the Mirror called Musonda “the most wanted teenager in Europe.” Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona were all believed to have had an interest in the teenager.
In 2012, Musonda joined Chelsea and has subsequently impressed in the club’s youth system. A December 2015 article from The Telegraph stated that Musonda was perceived to be more talented than fellow Belgian wunderkinds Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne were at the same age. Worryingly for Chelsea, a lack of first-team chances for Musonda (again, a recurring problem for youth players at Chelsea) led to rumblings of discontent in the form of quotes from Musonda’s father, the apparently quite outspoken Charly Musonda Sr. The senior Charly, a former Anderlecht player and Zambian international in his own right, said his son “must absolutely leave Chelsea.”
Ultimately, it was not a permanent, but merely a temporary move away from Chelsea (a loan to Real Betis in January 2016) that was the next step in Musonda’s career. While at Betis, Musonda experienced mixed fortunes. He made his professional debut that February against Valencia where he terrorized poor Gary Neville’s side, while earning himself a man of the match distinction. That early spark dulled as Musonda’s time at Betis progressed, though. His loan was initially extended through the 2016/17 season, but after making only one start in eight appearances in the campaign’s first half under new boss and former Chelsea player Gus Poyet, Musonda’s loan was terminated in January 2017 and he returned to Chelsea. His impressive first senior Chelsea start and goal against Forrest showed that despite some La Liga struggles, Musonda’s ceiling is still considerably high.
What is his Style of Play?
An attacking midfielder capable of playing on either wing, Musonda is most comfortable with the ball at his feet. The young Belgian is not shy to embarrass defenders with the many feints and tricks he has in his arsenal, frequently looking to take on and dribble directly at the opposition. Although Chelsea have been experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation lately, Musonda’s skillset would seem to offer an excellent foil opposite Eden Hazard in the 3-4-3 the Blues utilized so effectively last season. Having both Belgians buzzing around simultaneously would likely induce nervous sweats in opposing defenders trying not to concede free kicks.
Musonda is seldom a static presence on the pitch. This is partly what makes him such an exciting prospect. Even as a fresh-faced 19-year-old making his first professional start against Valencia, Musonda showed no signs of apprehension as he looked to get on the ball and influence the match. Ostensibly playing on the right wing, he popped up in multiple areas to wreak his havoc. The match’s only goal was a result of a Musonda secondary assist provided from a central position just outside the top of the box.
What are his Strengths?
Dribbling. In the 2016 half of the 2015/16 La Liga season, only €222 million-man Neymar completed more successful dribbles than Musonda. Similar to his Belgian compatriot, Hazard, Musonda’s dribbling ability can make him an absolute terror for defenders in and around the opposition’s penalty area. And while those defenders are being physically corkscrewed into the ground by the shiftiness of Musonda’s feet, they’ll also be suffering from a degree of mental anguish as well. Musonda will often linger on the ball before deciding to pass, shoot or just continue dribbling, increasing the likelihood that an overzealous defender will make a rash decision and commit a costly foul.
Although he’s scored just twice thus far at the senior level, Musonda’s shooting ability is another aspect of his game that defenders must consider. Musonda was the scorer of some pivotal goals during his time with Chelsea’s youth team. In the 2013/14 campaign, he bagged a goal against Manchester United in a crucial U21 Premier League title decider and scored again against Fulham in the FA Youth Cup final to help the baby Blues secure two trophies that season.
The goal against Manchester United in particular was indicative of the dangerous shooting ability Musonda possesses. Like a professional dancer making a special guest appearance at a school dance comprised of a bunch of awkward teenagers, Musonda skipped passed United’s leg-locked defenders, and then fired a quick shot that found the back of the net from just outside the penalty area. At youth level, Musonda showed he can get his shot off quickly and shoot well from range.
What are his Weaknesses?
Despite his dribbling ability already looking world-class, Musonda’s passing (and in particular his crossing) could use some improvement. Often at the senior level a delightfully mazy Musonda dribbling sequence will be spoiled by a poor pass just as the Belgian is nearing goal. At times he seems unsure of what pass to play and when to play it. Ideally, with continued first-team involvement, Musonda can further develop his decision making in the final third.
Musonda is obviously a very young player and his physique does little to conceal that fact. With the Premier League still being home to some of the toughest, most physical defenders in the world, Musonda will want to strengthen his upper body for the inevitable confrontations that await him. He has, so far in his senior career, occasionally looked overmatched by bigger players. But considering his age, Musonda’s current physical deficiencies should not be a cause of too much concern for Chelsea, as he has plenty of time to improve his strength.