By Sam Tighe
Jose Mourinho drew global applause for snapping up Filipe Luis this summer, paying £20 million in no-nonsense style for what many consider to be the most complete left-back in world football. The Brazilian, comically overlooked by Luiz Felipe Scolari for his FIFA World Cup 2014 selection, boasts both defensive and attacking ability and has the stamina to match anyone. He's not an offensive juggernaut like David Alaba but he's close, and while he may not be the best left-back in the sport, his skill-set is most certainly the most well-rounded.
He forged a wonderful relationship with Arda Turan on the flank for Atletico Madrid, bombing forward when necessary but tucking in to do his defensive shift too. Is there a better way to replace the outbound Ashley Cole than with a player so similar in his ethic and traits?
Luis to Chelsea made all the sense in the world to every individual...except one player in particular who has decided he won't be ousted. Branislav Ivanovic takes issue with the notion that he should take a back seat, and as a result is playing some of the finest football of his entire career.
This was to be the season, earmarked by Mourinho and the club, in which Ivanovic—so often a central figure in the dressing room and a key face in the side—would be phased out. The focus in pre-season was on how the Serbian would take it; how would he cope with a reduced influence in proceedings as the new pair of full-backs took over full-time control?
Cesar Azpilicueta, who played most of last season on the wrong side in place of Cole, was expected to return to his natural right side and Luis would slot in opposite on the left. The pairing, on paper, is perfect; one of the strongest and most mobile in world football.
That Mourinho didn't introduce Luis immediately wasn't a surprise, with Chelsea opening Monday Night Football for the season with a tough, physical trip to Burnley. Newly promoted sides are among the worst to face when both slates are clean, and travelling to Turf Moor on a windy, rainy night requires nous, experience and, above all, exactly the type of physicality Ivanovic provides.
This strategic move wasn't an issue for Luis, who would win his chance soon. The problem developed when Ivanovic had an absolute stormer and scored a goal, then followed that up with a cracking show against Leicester and a goalscoring performance against Everton, too. Utilize the latest Guts sports promotion and place a bet on Ivanovic to score next game, that could pay off big time.
The Serbian has two in three from right-back, has been hitting the best crosses out of everyone and has renewed vigour in his defence work. Mourinho gave Luis his debut late on at Goodison Park on Saturday evening, but his task was to flail around in defensive midfield rather than slot in at full-back.
It's arguable Ivanovic has been Chelsea's third-best player of the season so far behind Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, and what was originally a guaranteed first-team role for Luis has now become the biggest challenge of his life.
Many were quick to accept Ivanovic fading this season, but not Ivanovic himself. He's in demonic form because he knows what he's up against, and don't expect his performance levels to drop any time soon.
You can find Sam on twitter @stighefootball