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Who is Chelsea target Enzo Fernandez? Everything you need to know about the Benfica star and World Cup winner
The 21-year-old, named the best young player in Qatar, only joined Benfica in the summer but has excelled at the heart of midfield in a side that pipped Paris Saint-Germain to first place in their Champions League group.
It is hard to think of a player whose stock has risen more rapidly than Enzo Fernandez's in 2022.
The 21-year-old graduate of River Plate's academy left his boyhood club in the summer after guiding them to the Primera Division title last December, opting for Benfica as his new home, with the overall deal worth up to around £16m.
That purchase has been a masterstroke by the Portuguese giants, with Fernandez slotting seamlessly into Roger Schmidt's midfield and helping the Eagles soar past Paris Saint-Germain to top Champions League Group H.
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Fernandez, whose first Argentina cap only came in September, then went on to star at the World Cup, curling in exquisitely in the crucial group game against Mexico before proving a key ingredient in the Albiceleste's run to victory, culminating in the final against France when he led the way in terms of touches (118), successful passes (77) and tackles (10).
Now, there is an understandable clamour for his signature, but with Benfica club president Rui Costa demanding interested parties meet a €120m (£106m) release clause for the man voted best young player in Qatar, only a select few clubs will be able to afford him.
Chelsea appear the frontrunners and have "communicated their willingness" to meet the release clause, but what is the situation as it stands? Let's delve a little deeper into the player and the transfer...
What is Enzo Fernandez's style of play?
Fernandez's most common deployment since his arrival at Benfica has been at the base of Benfica's midfield alongside 23-year-old Florentino. But the youngster born in Buenos Aires has also been played centrally in a 4-4-2 and in a more attacking role out on the right in a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
His only Argentina starts so far have been at the World Cup, where Lionel Scaloni played him centrally as part of a three-man, four-man and five-man midfield, as well as relying on his discipline as the defensive shield in the last-16 clash against Australia and against France.
However, to typecast him solely as a supreme ball winner does a great disservice to his extraordinary passing ability (he is the second-best when it comes to accurate passes per 90 minutes in the Primeira Liga so far this season with 96.4).
He is capable of playing inch-perfect through-balls and lofted passes over a defence as well as producing inviting crosses and executing the short, sensible option when required.
Fernandez's 2022/23 expected-assists figure in Portuguese's top flight is second only to Benfica team-mate Joao Mario.
He has created eight big chances in the league this season - behind only Braga's Iuri Medeiros and Porto striker Mehdi Taremi - while he is the best by a mile in Portugal this term when it comes to accurate long balls per 90 (11.1, compared to the next-best player, Braga midfielder Al-Musrati with 6.7).
His ease in beating the press and carrying the ball upfield is noteworthy, providing an attacking springboard for both club and country, and he has already struck up an excellent relationship with fellow World Cup sensation Goncalo Ramos.
Lastly, Fernandez has the presence of mind to break into the box and either assist team-mates or finish chances himself, and he won't hesitate to try his luck from distance when he spots an opportunity, something that was exemplified against Mexico when the South Americans needed a second to make the game safe.
In short, he is a hugely versatile and exciting player that would benefit any club in world football right now.
What is Chelsea's midfield situation?
Chelsea's midfield is aging and an overhaul is on the horizon.
Both Jorginho and N'Golo Kante are 31 and see their contracts expire in the summer, with the Frenchman struggling badly with injuries this term as he continues to work his way back following hamstring surgery, having played just twice all season. However, Graham Potter has said he is not expected to make a return until late February at the earliest.
Mateo Kovacic has also had some fitness issues in the last year or so and although he is a consistent performer for Potter's men and has a bit more time on his side at 28, his current deal only runs until the summer of 2024.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek's injury problems over the years have been well documented and his contract is up in 2024, while Denis Zakaria is only on a season-long loan from Juventus.
It is also too risky to rely heavily on teenagers Lewis Hall and Carney Chukwuemeka, hugely promising as they are.
Chelsea currently lack energy in that department, so a statement signing like Fernandez would provide a real boost to the whole club and is likely to be an extremely worthwhile investment based on his rapid rise in 2022.
Who else could sign Enzo Fernandez?
The two clubs other than Chelsea who have been mentioned in relation to a possible Fernandez transfer are Liverpool and Manchester United.
However, United will need to wait until at least the summer before having the funds necessary to buy him, with the Glazers reportedly set to sell the Red Devils imminently, meaning loan deals are the only way forward in the winter window.
Liverpool's immediate budget meanwhile has been significantly reduced following the signing of Cody Gakpo, with David Lynch revealing that the Reds are targeting Jude Bellingham over Fernandez and are most likely to be able to sign the Englishman in the summer.
It's Fernandez to Chelsea or nowhere in January.