• Tor-Kristian Karlsen

Jul 21, 2023, 04:00 AM ET

There’s a strong chance that Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Moises Caicedo could be lining up for Saturday’s U.S. friendly opponents Chelsea next season, if the two clubs can agree a transfer fee.

Having fended off interest from Arsenal in January – which saw the 21-year-old publicly push for a move before extending his contract until 2027 – Brighton now seem more amenable to letting him leave. But with the Gunners opting to spend £105 million ($131m) to bring in Declan Rice from West Ham instead, sources have told ESPN that Chelsea now head the queue to sign Caicedo and have seen a £70m ($91.5m) bid rejected already.

With his transfer valued at around £100m, the Ecuador international’s career has skyrocketed since joining Brighton in August 2021 from Independiente del Valle, a club renowned for its first-class academy, for just £4m. He was sent out on loan to Beerschot in Belgium to gain experience straight away, but when he returned Caicedo took little time to find his feet in the Premier League, establishing himself one of the top young midfielders in the game during his first full campaign.

Here’s the lowdown on Chelsea’s potential new arrival.

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What makes him so special?

Last season’s stats offer certain clues. Caicedo ranked second in the Premier League for tackles (100, at 39.1% success rate) and second for interceptions (56), both crucial metrics on which to assess a central midfielder primarily lauded for his defensive capabilities.

He was ranked eighth in ball recovery (248) and repeatedly wins it back via his excellent positioning and quick thinking, then fills the gaps where cover is needed. In addition, he helps the transition with swift positive passing, which enables his more attacking teammates to catch the opposition off balance on the counterattack.

Then there’s the rate at which he keeps doing the right thing, game after game, practically without fail. His 32 senior international caps for Ecuador at the age of 21 is also a strong indicator of his maturity. Though Caicedo’s development is nowhere near finished yet, his consistency, work ethic and tactical are already way above what would be expected from top-level footballers in their early 20s.

“He came in quite late to the academy – he was about to turn 15. He was a pretty humble young kid; he didn’t get much playing time the first year but he was always very open, focused, consistent and reliable. He always offered his best effort at every training session and was willing to listen and receive guidance from his coaches. He was an ideal kid to work with in that sense.

“He was the kind of talent that whispered rather than shouted; you couldn’t really tell that he would become one of the most wanted defensive midfielders in the world just a few years later.” – Luis Roggiero, Sporting Director at Independiente del Valle when Caicedo joined the club.

While some other central/defensive midfielders across Europe might be equally diligent in the “destructive” side of the game, it’s worth emphasising that Caicedo has proven exceptionally reliable in possession (88.8% pass completion last season, with an 83% success rate on long passes) and drives the ball forward like an expert No. 8. Indeed, his impact as an attacking force tends to be understated, even though when he carries the ball into the final third it often leads to a scoring chance for Brighton.

With an impressive work rate, tactical discipline, physical power and athleticism, Caicedo is remarkably efficient at what he does well. He perfectly blends the skillset of a classic No. 6 and No. 8 without any drop in quality. And the manner in which the youngster relishes every challenge suggests he will go far.

“I remember when he was 17, he did not make the team that was going to play in the Copa Mitad del Mundo – an important U18 tournament that Independiente organises each year – because he was coming back from an injury. But at the last moment we had another player injured so we called him into the team.

“Caicedo had just travelled for four or five hours on an uncomfortable bus back to his house. We called him hoping he hadn’t left yet but he was already home, so we asked him to come back. He had to take another long bus trip but ended up becoming a starter in that tournament, which we won, and from there on he never stopped.

“Later that season, we went to play at a tournament in Spain where he put in another incredible performance. At the end of that season, he was promoted to the first team with a view to easing him in for the next season, but he was already coping so well with the demands of the first team, he exceeded expectations and got playing time.” -- Roggierio

How would he fit at Chelsea?

Under Mauricio Pochettino, if he is fielded in a double pivot (similar to the tactical setup at Brighton) that should make him compatible with Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who was signed for a British-record £106.8m in January.

Caicedo tended to leave the lion’s share of creative duties to either Pascal Gross or Alexis Mac Allister, so his roaming presence in central areas should free up room for Fernandez to shine.

Though Caicedo is capable of performing playmaking duties himself, Fernandez’s ability to pick line-breaking passes or spread lateral switch balls is arguably his main strength. Having the Ecuadorian alongside him will ensure that he is able to concentrate on these.

Is he similar to N’Golo Kante in style?

With his incredible stamina, it’s easy to envisage Caicedo covering vast areas in midfield and sweeping up loose balls in the mould of Kante. The Frenchman, who left on a free transfer to join Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad this summer, has a rather distinctive style that is not the easiest to replicate, but it has proven to be incredibly successful over recent years.

At the peak of his powers for Chelsea in 2016-17, Kante was second in tackles (127, at 47.4% success rate), sixth for interceptions (82) and second for ball recovery (275) in two fewer games. Similar stats to Caicedo.

Yet, don’t be surprised if the Ecuadorian ups his attacking input at Chelsea as his enormous work radius also brings him into highly advantageous positions in and around the opposing penalty area.

In the 2016-17 season, Kante created 22 chances (key passes plus assists) for his Chelsea teammates and had 27 shots, while Caicedo made 43 chances and took 28 shots in 2022-23 for Brighton. So you can expect him to have an impact at both ends of the pitch.

Where can he improve?

Caicedo is still prone to excessive fouling, which is a result of his high-energy, all-encompassing style. He could also convert more of his chances to goals as he enters the box and up his creativity in the final third.

But, primarily, he will need to ensure that he keeps up his high level of performances in a new environment, rather than add new facets to his game.

“What has happened with Brighton is just more confirmation of Caicedo being able to perform at the level that is demanded – or even better than that. I would guess that wherever his next step is, from what he has shown us so far, he should be able to keep on that same path.” -- Roggierio

Are any other clubs interested?

While Arsenal’s pursuit of Caicedo has subsided with the arrival of Rice, Liverpool and Manchester United have kept close tabs on him. Despite already landing Brighton’s Mac Allister (£35m) and RB Leipzig’s Dominik Szoboszlai (£62m), Liverpool are in need of a modern “hybrid” midfielder, and Caicedo would fit the bill to perfection. Manchester United could also profit from a quality upgrade next to Casemiro.

However, it appears that Chelsea’s longstanding interest might have put them in the driving seat. Brighton have thus far held firm to their valuation of £100m, but it might not be long before Caicedo is wearing a different colour of blue shirt.