Why Danny Drinkwater needs to look for a permanent move away from Chelsea in January
If you were asked to name a current Premier League midfielder with England caps, who would you think of? Jordan Henderson? Eric Dier? Or maybe even Ross Barkley.
One name that won’t be mentioned very often is Danny Drinkwater.
The central midfielder earned his first international cap back in 2016, playing the full 90 minutes and receiving the Man of the Match award in a 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands at Wembley. He went on to play a further two times for his country; against Turkey and Australia during the run-up to Euro 2016. He was unlucky not to make Roy Hodgson’s final squad for the tournament.
Drinkwater was a major part of Leicester City’s title-winning squad in 2015/16, his performances alongside midfield dynamo, N’Golo Kante, propelled him to the attention of fans and pundits alike. While the 28-year-old didn’t have the same impact in the following season without his midfield partner (who would?) his performances in both the league and Champions League during the 2016/17 campaign persuaded Chelsea to try and rekindle the partnership. The Stamford Bridge outfit eventually agreed on a fee of £35million with Leicester on the deadline day of 2017. Drinkwater made the move to London later that day, signing a five-year deal.
That was nearly 14 months ago, and since then the former Manchester United youngster has made just 12 starts in all competitions for the Blues. The only football that he has played this season is a 30-minute cameo in the Community Shield, and the 2016 Premier League Champion has made the matchday squad on just one other occasion; the 4-1 win over Cardiff back in mid-September.
Drinkwater is behind Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Kante, Barkley, Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the pecking order at Stamford Bridge and the lack of game time has seen him fall way behind in the fight for the central midfield roles in the England squad. The only way to haul himself into the reckoning would be to push for a move away from the London club in search for playing time.
Where could he go?
Rumours during the summer transfer window linked the midfielder with the exit door at Stamford Bridge, with Southampton, Crystal Palace and a return to former club Leicester all being mentioned as possible destinations.
Looking at the squads of the three clubs mentioned, Crystal Palace is the lightest in the central midfield area, especially as their preferred lineup includes three in the middle. Manager Roy Hodgson has also previously worked with Drinkwater on the national stage, which could reduce any settling in period that the player may experience.
Talking of not needing any settling in, a return to the Midlands and the King Power Stadium may be attractive to the player himself. After all, he already knows the club, the area, the fans and most of the squad. However, playing time may not be guaranteed at his old home. Leicester already has an array of central midfield options, with Wilfred Ndidi, Adrien Silva, Vicente Iborra and the re-emergent Napalys Mendy all battling it out for the two available spaces in the starting 11. While fellow midfielders Matty James and Andy King are still with the club.
Of the three sides linked with the player in the summer, Southampton is the most in need of a January boost in terms of signings. The South Coast club currently sit in 16th place in the Premier League table, having only recorded one win so far this season. The addition of Drinkwater would add the invaluable experience of someone who has been involved in a successful relegation fight. having been involved in Leicester's great escape of 2015.
Reports suggest that Drinkwater is willing to play the long game when it comes to his future. But if the midfielder harbours any ambitions to have a chance of getting back to where he was he needs to be on the pitch showing what he can do, and not wasting away a career sitting in the stand every Saturday afternoon. A move away from Stamford Bridge has to be the next step.