Is Diego Costa the right striker for Chelsea?

Diego_Costa_-_01With speculation hailing the arrival of Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid as Chelsea Football club’s next big striker acquisition, many are calling an end to the curse that has haunted the club since the arrival of Fernando Torres from Liverpool Football Club.

Diego Costa has been making waves this season in Diego Simeone’s team. Atletico are on the cusps of wining the La Liga, and Diego Costa’s goals have been the driving factor behind their success. But is Diego Costa really the man capable of successfully leading Chelsea’s front line? To further elucidate this, we have to look back to the transfer window of January 2011, where another striker entered the club as the next big thing.

Fernando Torres joined Chelsea in a 50 million pound move from Liverpool. Back then, he was billed as the replacement for Club legend Didier Drogba, a man who was then at the twilight of his career. This situation, though not completely similar, mimics that of Diego Costa.

For Torres then, not only was a 50 million pound transfer fee weighing on his head, the striker was charged by the fans with the task of revitalizing a team that was then languishing in the premier league table. The result, as many would know, was nothing short of dreadful. Since his arrival till now, Torres has struggled to recreate his fabled performances for Liverpool. And now, he faces the axe in the summer.

The variety of reasons behind Torres’ disappointing performances had been heavily covered. Torres was a completely different striker, brought in to play for a team too accustomed to Drogba’s play style. Between the two, Drogba was a striker who held up play and used his strength and power to create chances for himself. Torres was a striker who clung onto the shoulder of the last defender, using his pace to latch onto through balls and score.

In a team then devoid of creative players capable of playing to Torres’ strengths, Torres was forced to adapt to a completely new play style. Torres began learning to play with his back to goal. His partnership with Drogba at times, was also a pairing that had zero chemistry.

With an underwhelming first season, the club chose to refocus their efforts into building a team around Torres. A creative player by the name of Juan Mata was brought in to help Torres flourish, but injuries, poor form and the renaissance of Drogba kept Torres away from the first team. His contributions of 11 goals in 49 appearances, despite winning the champions league marked another poor season.

In 2012/2013, the departure of Drogba and the arrival of creative starlets like Hazard and Oscar meant that the club had finally committed to Torres. However, as the season went on, despite the purchase of highly gifted playmakers, Torres failed to flourish.

Looking back, this author realizes that the environment at Chelsea had never quite suited the Spaniard despite the club’s transition towards playing more attractive football. This was mainly because with Hazard, Mata and Oscar behind him, Torres was forced to play on their wavelength instead.

For a striker used to hanging on the shoulder of the last defender, the triumvirate of Hazard, Oscar and Mata (and now Willian) caused a mismatch in playing style. Instead of long searching through balls to the striker, Chelsea’s creative midfielders like Hazard were given more freedom to dribble forward and create. Torres once again, had to adapt his play style to become more of a fox in the box, rather than a striker playing off the last defender. This is also probably why, Samuel Eto, a striker who came in more comfortable with playing on the flanks and in tight spaces around the box, fared better than Torres or Demba Ba.

Now as this season draws to a close, the imminent arrival of Diego Costa throws a new striker into the fray.

At a glance, statistics tell us that Deigo Costa is one of the most lethal strikers in the world. 27 goals in 32 appearances dwarf Chelsea’s combined front line output but they do not tell us his preferred play style. However, examining Chelsea’s match against Atletico Madrid in the Champions league semi-finals can provide a better picture.

During the match, Diego Costa lined up in a 4-4-2 and played off Raul Garcia. A majority of his touches were made with his back towards the goal. Costa also showed good heading and control to bring down long balls provided from midfield. In short, his qualities mimic that of Didier Drogba; strong, powerful and excellent in hold up play. But is a Drogba-like striker what Chelsea need at the moment?

There is without a doubt that Costa is the ideal striker for Jose Mourinho. After all, Drogba excelled under the Portuguese and Costa stands to do the same. But the circumstances now differ greatly. A team was built around Drogba. Costa now goes into a team already built. Diego Costa, though a virtuoso in the art of scoring goals like Drogba, seems to fit like a square peg in a round hole. A peg that could negatively affect the overall synergy of Chelsea’s attack.

In 32 appearances this season, Diego Costa has created a total of 40 chances, a mere 3 of which led to assists. This is much lower than other “Well performing” strikers in Europe. For example, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has created 66 chances (11 asists) while Suarez has created 80 chances (12 asists). Both have similar goal outputs with 25 goals and 30 goals respectively.

Though many might argue that chances created do not matter when it comes to strikers, this author begs to differ. In a highly unique midfield like Chelsea’s, it is important to not only bury the chances given, but also create chances for others.

A target man like Diego Costa may provide a good reference point for the team. However, an ability to bring out the best in the other players like Hazard counts towards creating a better team overall. This does not only merely refer to a striker who can slow down play and bring others into the attack, but also one who has the technical skills/vision to dribble at defences or play in various positions around the attacking third. These qualities however, do not seem to be key traits of Diego Costa.

Only time will tell whether Diego Costa can flourish in this new Chelsea squad. Diego Costa does possess better technical skills than Drogba though. Perhaps those factors would help him assimilate better into the Chelsea team. However, time needed for such a transition, could provide certain obstacles for Chelsea’s title challenges next season. Should another Torres like case occur, the consequences will be dire.

Admittedly, this writer believes that strikers in the mould of Luis Suarez (or the man himself. Although that is highly unlikely) represent the ideal purchase for Chelsea to top off a solid title challenging team. But with the confirmed purchase of Diego Costa lurking, fans should consider well before pinning all of their hopes on the Atletico Madrid striker being the solution to Chelsea’s striking woes.

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Chelsea good results masks Oscar downturn

osc_2345375bSaturday’s game was produced a mixed bag of feelings when Chelsea laboured to a 1-0 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge. While the win was undoubtedly important to Chelsea’s title challenge, many would admit that the game could have easily gone either way. However, predatory instincts from Chelsea Captain John Terry, ensured that the blues escaped what would be a disastrous result.

For much of the game, Chelsea struggled to keep up with Everton’s dynamic passing. This was particularly evident among the left channel, where Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar were able to run riot around the defence.  Arguably, the only bright spark on the field for Chelsea was defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic, who is gradually living up to the bill as the midfield player that Chelsea has been missing for the past last few seasons with his powerful play spiced with calm and technically astute touches.

While Mourinho might credit his side’s resilience in ultimately garnering a much important win, key questions arise over the state of Chelsea’s much hyped midfield force. The sale of Juan Mata was a statement of intention from Mourinho signalling that he had finally decided on his first team midfield of Willian Oscar and Hazard. Hazard in particular, has impressed many this season with his virtuoso performances on the left. However, can the same be said for Willian and Oscar?

A hallmark of Mourinho teams is the expectation that players work for the team and focus diligently on defending/pressing. Many can see that Mourinho’s players have fully subscribed to his ethos, although it should be noted that Hazard has been given more freedom than most players to focus on attack of late (much like Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid when Mourinho was managing the club). Over the course of the season, Willian and Oscar have been lauded for their energy and industry in both defence and attack. Pacey and quick, both have added a great deal to the team’s high pressing counter attacking game, with Willian playing a huge role in many of Chelsea’s counter attacking moves. However, Oscar, so often recognised as the selfless orchestrator, has recently suffered a downturn in form, one that is a huge cause for concern for the manger.

Since his goal from a sumptuous free kick against stoke in January, Oscar has embarked on a drought devoid of goals and assists spanning 6 games. So often a 90 minute player, Oscar has been substituted 4 times in the past 6 games. His recent game against Everton on Saturday marked a 45 minute substitution from an ankle injury, but his performances during the match made his injury withdrawal a bittersweet blessing for Mourinho.

At the start of the game, Oscar quickly went into the books with a reckless tackle. Furthermore, he was sloppy in possession and was hardly able to press Everton’s midfielders well. Easily bullied of the ball by Gareth Barry, his attacking contributions have also been mediocre where he misplaced passes that could have easily led to attacking chances countless times in the first half. Though substituted for an ankle compliant, Ramires, his replacement, proved a more capable attacking outlet in the second half.

While many might count his first hal performance as a one off of the young Brazilian, the same trend could be seen in his previous games. Most tellingly, Mourinho’s preference to play Willian in Oscar’s favoured number 10 role (one which ultimately caused the departure of Mata) in both high pressure games against Man City instead, hints at a likely drop in confidence from the manager.

At his best, we all know the qualities Oscar can bring to Chelsea. Industrious, intelligent and selfless, Oscar fits Mourinho’s plans as the perfect playmaker. While less creative than Mata, it was arguably his off the ball work that convinced Mourinho of his quality. Ranked high in the team for number of successful interceptions and tackles, Oscar’s defensive qualities high up the pitch has won back possession for the team numerous times, and spurred the start of many successful counter attacking moves. Yet against Everton, he struggled to exhibit his unique qualities. Perhaps a reason explaining his poor performance could be fatigue from the number of games he has played without break since last season, a staggering 77 games last season, 45 games this season. Without proper rest, many fear an ankle compliant now could lead to more disastrous injuries down in his career.

Nevertheless, while this writer believes that Oscar will eventually regain his form, his poor performances now do not bode well for a team challenging for the premier league title. With Willian struggling to get goals and assists despite his good team performances, Chelsea continues to be increasingly reliant on Hazard for inspiration. However, since his hat trick against new castle, the last 3 games have also been barren for the Belgian star, marking an overall dip in form from Chelsea’s creative trio.

At this stage, Mourinho can choose to continue playing Oscar, or turn to his bench, where the likes of Andre Schurrle and Mohammed Salah wait for their chance to shine. However, how much better are they compared to the current team?

At the start of the season, Schurrle was widely seen as a player capable of challenging for starting spots on both wings. However, the former Bayer Leverkusen player has eventually lost his first team opportunities after poor performances. On Saturday, he was given a chance against Everton, but failed to impress with selfish runs from the left. Too eager to impress, Schurrle often wasted chances by shooting from range, failing to provide for better placed teammates. Mourinho certainly will not be too happy with what he has seen and could turn his eyes to Salah instead.

Known as a versatile attacker capable of playing anywhere in attack, many would agree that the premier league has not seen enough of Chelsea’s new buy from Basel. Frighteningly quick, Salah’s pace alone has terrorized defences in his brief run outs from the bench. But a lack of an effective final ball could be the reason why Mourinho has yet to fully entrust him with more minutes. Perhaps now Chelsea fans could anticipate more game time (or a first start) for the Egyptian star.

With the competition at the top of the table intensifying, a single loss or draw could be the difference between the title and 3rd place. Chelsea needs all their players to be on top form. Already lacking effective players in the striking department, Mourinho has to stem poor performances from attacking midfield, particularly that of Oscar, if he wants to win yet another premier league title.

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nice post

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Taking a look at Nemanja Matić

indexIn the January transfer window of 2011, Chelsea Football Club secured two blockbuster signings by the names of David Luiz from Benifica and the ever polarizing Fernando Torres, from Liverpool. Since then, David Luiz has become the bedrock of the side’s defence and more recently midfield, while Torres has struggled to match his 50 million pound transfer fee.

With the excitement surrounding his transfer, it would be hard to blame fans who missed out on a young player moving away from Stamford Bridge as a make weight for David Luiz’s plane ticket to London. That player was Nemanja Matić, then a relatively low profile player (worth about 4 million pounds) in Chelsea’s youth set up. A player from Serbia who at only 20 years old, traded English shores to hone his craft in the Portuguese first division.

Now at 25 years of age, Matić is a proven veteran in the heart of the Benifica midfield, solidifying his reputation as one of league’s best midfield generals with each passing game. In recent weeks, Jose Mourinho has supposedly shortlisted Matić as one of the key transfer targets this window. This writer believes that in choosing the Serbian, Chelsea could strengthen a weakening part of the Chelsea midfield, and potentially build a stronger one for years to come.

Chelsea and Benifica have long enjoyed satisfaction with their transfer dealings. Matić was one such success story who grew in stature at the Portuguese club, the fact that he is now worth 20-30 million, nearly 9 times his cost price would see him net a hefty profit for Benifica. This situation was similar to the sale of Ramires to Chelsea. The Brazilian powerhouse midfielder has since become an integral part of the Chelsea team, and arguably the best performer in center midfield with the Club’s lack of capable substitutes.

Although the abundance of attacking midfield players at Chelsea is embarrassing (the likes of Juan Mata and De Bruyne on the bench), the club do lack options in center midfield, a key fulcrum of the team which Mourinho relies highly on. At Real Madrid, Mourinho had a dynamic and title winning paring in work horse Sami Khedira, and creator Xabi Alonso. However, at Chelsea, Ramires remains his only reliable midfielder as Lampard/Essien approach the twilight of their careers while Mikel struggles for creative output. An exciting player that should have made his mark this season, Marco Van Ginkel (or Justin as the players fondly call him) is out injured for the entirety of the season. A reinforcement through the likes of Matić is important if Mourinho would want to sustain his title push.

Looking at Matić, we have a towering physical specimen, 6 foot 4 inch, and a versatile box to box midfielder who mirrors Ramires with his industrious play style. His energy and strength in tackles have seen him screen the Benifica defence admirably and Mourinho can look to him to perform the same role at Chelsea football club. While Ramires has a higher advantage in pace, Matić makes up for it with his defining strength and reading of the game, factors which make him an asset in both defence and attack. Most importantly, Matić, despite his “lumbering figure” possesses a deft touch as well as a decent passing range. Although fans will still see a fair number of backwards or sidewards passes as his range may not be as fantastic as the likes of Xabi Alonso’s, it is certainly more inventive than Mikel’s or Ramires. Given time to grow, one can expect him to begin pulling the strings in midfield in the seasons to come. In a way, Matić reminds many of Yaya Toure, a similar powerhouse midfielder who has taken the premier league by storm since his arrival from Barcelona. Although Yaya Toure is a proven performer, Matić has the same traits that could see him mirror Toure’s achievements.

For Nemanja Matić, a move now will be one filled with mixed feelings. As a young player coming through years ago, his failure to break in the main team was one that saw him traded away. Although that move was a blessing in disguise, seeing that he has now established himself in another league, a move back to Chelsea at this stage of his career is nevertheless a risk he will have to take to make a successful step up to the more competitive league.

Will he gain enough game time? or be shuffled to the bench when a more expensive marque signings come in? The future remains uncertain. However, for this writer at least, a move now in the January transfer window would in Matic’s best interests. Given the injuries in the squad, and a lack of depth in center midfield, Matić has every factor perfectly placed for him, to win over his manager and establish himself in center midfield over the second half of the season. These were the same circumstances which saw Chelsea right back Cesar Azipilicueta, establish himself at right back last term. Although Mourinho’s arrival and Rafa Benitez’s exit has since relegated the Spanish right back to the bench as a deputy, the likely stability with Mourinho now at the helm, is an advantageous situation. After all, Matic’s industry and attitude are synonymous with the type of players Mourinho wants. Barring any injury or fall out, Matić is well poised to form a successful partnership with Ramires with Mourinho’s support.

The transfer window in January is always exciting periods, filled with high expectations, ecstasy and disappointment. Chelsea needs to reinforce their midfield to surpass title contenders Manchester City and Arsenal. While Matić may not be the single catalyst for Mourinho successful second reign, buying him is certainly a positive step in the right direction.

*Just a note. Talk about financial coups, paying potentially 20-30 million for the same player who was worth 4 million back then. Must be nice to have money to throw around…

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At F**kin last Mikel

Mikel and Moses“2555, that the number of days since he last scored a goal. Every day, that number grows bigger, and that scares me. Because all it takes is just one goal to bring it all crashing down to zero.”

A thumping header from Fernando Torres was parried away by David Stockdale during the 83th minute of the Fulham vs Chelsea London Derby. Chelsea was leading 1-0 courtesy of an Oscar goal, which gave much respite for a Chelsea team who came into the match on the back of 2 losses. As the resulting corner came in, Chelsea fans could only hope for the elusive goal that would put the game to bed. Terry was first to the ball, heading it to the path of an oncoming player.

As the ball bounced tantalizingly, it was as if the whole of Stamford Bridge held their breath in anticipation. Contact came, and from a brilliant volley, the ball rustled into the back of the net. Chelsea was up 2-0. Cue the jubilant celebration amongst fans worldwide. The goal had brought Chelsea briefly to the top of the table. As the goals corer emerged from the ground, fans looked to find out his identity. Who could it be? Surely that finish was one befitting of Hazard or Lampard. Just then, the faint number 12 shirt appeared.

Oh my f**king god, its MIKEL.

Watching from the television screen, my celebration for Mikel’s  goal arguably matched that of our Champions league win, when Didier Drogba slotted in his last penalty in a Chelsea shirt to clinch the trophy. As Mikel ran towards the touch line, his face was the epitome of pure ecstasy. “ITS MIKEL!” the commentator screamed as he jumped onto the loving arms of Frank Lampard. How ironic, the holder of the longest barren streak for an outfield player celebrating in the arms of the man who now holds the record of Chelsea’s all-time top scorer.

Even Roman Abramovich, a man whose stoic expression was the butt of match commentator’s jokes all game, was more than all smiles. As many might recall, the Russian Oligarch, known for his austere demeanor stood up from his seat, hands covering his mouth in sheer disbelief. In the seconds to follow, his shock only increased as he turned to his friend in his private box to confirm the sight before his eyes. One could only guess the words they exchanged. Finally, happiness followed with his elusive smile, the first that I have seen on TV since our Champions League triumph. Roman Abramovich’s reaction was only outmatched by that online, as many lay to rest the daunting statistic that plagued Mikel throughout his career. Finally after 185 games or 7 years, Mikel has scored his first premier league goal.

It is funny that many still believe that Mikel has never ever scored a goal for Chelsea, that has actually been a myth. In his first season at the club, Mikel scored 2 goals in the FA cup but his drought has continued since then. For the Nigerian, it must have been a time of immense frustration. After all, Mikel played primarily as an attacking midfielder in his youth. In fact, he was more than just an attacking player, but the pride of Nigeria as the nation’s top footballing prospect. So skilled was he as an attacker that he emerged as the second best youth player (silver ball awardee) at the FIFA World Youth Championships, only behind Lionel Messi from Argentina. While Messi eventually hit storied heights at Barcelona, Mikel was seen by many to have languished at Chelsea.

In retrospect, one would always see Mikel dropping back as a center back whenever the team had corners. His only contribution to attack was the rare long shot that often came when Mikel happened to be close enough to the edge of the penalty box. Those, however, were often blasted high and wide. In fact, I like many, grew so used to seeing those shots miss their mark. They seemed a stark yet distinctive reminder of Mikel’s fate.

A large part of it came down to then manager Jose Mourinho’s decision to play him as a back up to Claude Makelele, the clubs chief defensive midfielder. Mikel, who was pushed away from his best position, was forced to adapt to Mourinho’s plans. Over the years, Mikel played a capable deputy to Makelele. When Mourinho left, fans gradually forgot about Mikel’s attacking prowress. The player they now saw was a slow lumbering beast, only capable of playing passes sideways and backwards. Yet somehow, he managed to get games. As if he was the best option the club had in defensive midfield. New arrivals like Romeu and the return of Michael Essien from injury, failed to change that.

At a glance, there is much to admire about Mikel and his commitment to defending. His strengths lie in his strength in possession and vision. This season however, a significant change can be seen in his play style. In the two games he has played, Mikel has played more forward passes and contributed more towards attack. This development has seen him display his underrated passing range and creativity.

Most crucially, it was as if the return of Mourinho, the manager who played a key role in his relegation to defence has lifted those shackles from the Nigerian. That showed against Fulham, where his presence in the box, once an anomaly leads to his goal.

Ultimately, 7 years without a goal is a statistic that can be seen as both admirable and hilarious. Some look at it as a testament of his focus on his defensive duty, others see it as a number that proves that he was a bad investment. Nevertheless, 22th August 2013 will always be a day to be remembered for all Chelsea fans.

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What lies next for Lukaku with his Everton Loan move?

indexRomelu Lukaku’s loan move to Everton was the stunner in a rather uneventful transfer deadline day for Chelsea Football Club. Many fans may feel aggrieved at his move at the dying embers of the transfer window. It was undoubtedly contentious, given that Mourinho had reportedly promised the Belgian starlet a starting spot this season following his impressive performances on loan at West Brom last season.

For Chelsea fans worldwide, the loss of Lukaku only goes to show the stark prospect of youth players on their ascension to the first team. Notable failures in recent years would include Michael Mancienne , Jacopo Sala and Nemanja Matic, although the later of the three performed well even after he left the club for the Portuguese league. As critics will argue, it has become clear that even despite Roman Abramovich’s focus on youth, Mourinho has deferred to old ways, bringing in Samuel Eto (a player well past his prime) instead of pinning his hopes on younger but more capricious talents like Lukaku.

At a glance, it is not hard to see why many believe Lukaku to be a better option to retain at the bridge. Compared to Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, the Belgian starlet is a cross between the two strikers. He possesses the physicality of Ba and the deft finishing touch of Torres. All those attributes meld with his fearsome pace to form an all rounded striker capable of reaching even greater heights than Didier Drogba, one of the best strikers to ever play at Stamford Bridge. Hence with such sterling attributes, why would Mourinho sanction a move for Lukaku away from the Bridge?

Many might point out that a lack of experience playing at the highest level would seem to be the most likely reason. While Lukaku excelled at West Brom in the premier league, he has yet to rack up enough experience playing against tougher opponents across English shores in the champion’s league/Europa league. However, this author believes that experience is not the main reason.

While experience is necessary for a team to succeed, Mourinho’s use of young attackers like Eden Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle in his starting line-up proves that he has confidence in the ability of his young charges to perform in attack. This belief has also even lead to the unfortunate displacement of Juan Mata from the starting line-up. Thus this begets the question; Even with a young attacking midfield line up, why can’t Lukaku then, be given an opportunity to play as well? The key lies in his synergy with the side’s creative players.

In Chelsea preseason, we have seen Lukaku’s best performances come when fellow Belgian compatriot Kevin De Bruyne was playing behind him. However, with the injection of new arrival Willian into the team, the amount of new creative outlets have swelled to a large number of personnel capable of playing in any of the three attacking midfield slots behind the striker. Here is a brief roundup for those who are unfamiliar. Currently Chelsea has 6 players vying for 3 positions. They are Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Willian and Kevin De Bruyne. Of those 6, Juan Mata, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne play primarily in the center. Eden Hazard and Willian on the left and Andre Schurrle on the right (although Schurrle plays better on the left, he has been used primarily on the right for most of the games so far). Furthermore, all of these players have shown the ability to play on any of the other positions, giving Mourinho a staggering 20 different combinations of players to use just for creative purposes.

Now back to Lukaku’s situation, Lukaku is known as a strong powerful forward in the mould of Drogba who plays with his back towards goal. Like Drogba, fashioning chances using his strength and pace is key to the forward’s game. For him to fully utilise his strength, space is needed. The stark differences between Lukaku’s performances at West Brom and that at Chelsea was the willingness of West Brom to give their Strikers Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku (both players known for their powerful style of play) space to exploit. Last season, West Brom’s tactics showed as Lukaku and Long were able to exploit vast amounts of spaces to fashion chances for themselves with their direct running and strength. Lukaku also excelled with such freedom, earning 17 goals in 35 appearances under the West Brom system. However, this will not be the case at Chelsea, where the emphasis is on ball playing midfielders rather than long passers and hard runners.

It is obvious from Chelsea’s attacking midfield players that the days of tactics which include only “passing to Drogba” has passed away into oblivion. With the players they have now, only Kevin De Bruyne has shown inclination for long passes to strikers. Other players like (Hazard, Oscar etc.) strive on direct dribbling in tight spaces, passing triangles and one twos. Hence, the ability of a striker who is skilled technically enough to play in sync with such midfielders is crucial. Lukaku is not that striker.

Lukaku excels running onto long passes in pockets of space. When ball playing midfielders like Hazard dribble onto goal, that space narrows and Lukaku is left out of place. From other observations, even though Lukaku is a proficient dribbler, he lacks the footballing awareness and understanding to play intricate passes and make use of his teammates properly. Hence, this is probably the reason why strikers like Wayne Rooney and Samuel Eto have been targeted, the latter was brought in after key target Rooney opted to stay.

Apart from Rooney, Samuel Eto will be the next best option to fit into the Chelsea style of play. Samuel Eto is the only out and out striker thus far who has excelled in Barcelona’s intensive Tiki Taka play style, and his ability to make use of Chelsea’s assortment of similar players could make his move a shrewd singing by Mourinho. Should Eto fail however, Torres is a reliable substitute, a player who has spent 3 years playing and improving with the sides creative players.

Now back to our Belgian starlet. With Lukaku being sent on loan to Everton cause of his inability to play well at Chelsea, what will a loan move do for his future and his development? On the top of our minds, Lukaku must surely be feeling hard done by Mourinho. After all, the Portuguese did promise him ample opportunities to shine at Chelsea, only to ship him out at the last minute. Such circumstances could only be deleterious to the player’s mindset and commitment to the club. With only 2 years left in his contract after the loan, will Lukaku perhaps consider a move away from Chelsea in a bid for more game time?

While it is hard to find the answer to that pertinent question. I can only say that Chelsea’s move to send Lukaku to Everton could be one that would see Lukaku develop to be a better striker overall. Transfer market observers may have heard that West Brom also tabled a bid to bring Lukaku over for a second year, a move which was rejected swiftly by Chelsea for a move to an Everton side lead by Roberto Martinez instead.

This development would seem to show that Mourinho will be more keen allowing Lukaku to hone his striking game at Everton than at West Brom. Why? Well Roberto Martinez played a similar attractive brand of football with Wigan last season and has brought the same mentality to Everton. Under Martinez’s guidance, Lukaku stands to improve technically and build greater football awareness, helping him develop a side of his game which has been underutilized at West Brom last season. The benefits of such a move is obvious, Lukaku becomes a better rounded striker rather than one who depends more on physical attributes of strength and pace. Such strikers are arguably a dying breed in football at the moment. If his loan pans out, Chelsea will get a player who is more rounded and more bedded into the premiership. Should Lukaku excel at his loan move, Mourinho will know he can finally trust the 20 year old with bigger responsibilities next season.

While Mourinho has incurred the wrath of many with the loan of Lukaku, fans should trust his decisions and await the results of the current season before judging. For Lukaku, even if he has failed once again to break into the Chelsea first team, this loan move will give him much needed experience and game time playing at a better club than that of last season. The loan will also give Lukaku a priceless opportunity to hone and refine his game, success of which will see him fit more seamlessly in the Chelsea team next season.

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New Coach, New start: Thoughts on Chelsea 2013/2014

indexPreseason is over and Chelsea now looks forward to the 2013/2014 season opener against Hull City at Stamford Bridge. For many fans, this season has been one of many surpises. The biggest of all would definitely be the return of “The Special One”, Jose Mourinho.
While many expected the same confidence and swagger that endeared Mourinho to players and fans during his first stint at Chelsea, Mourinho’s return marked a distinct change in the Portuguese’s demeanour. Proclaiming himself as “The Happy One” instead, Mourinho looked a more humble yet weathered individual. Obviously, years spent at Inter Milan and a tumulus period at Real Madrid changed him. However, one thing was for certain, Mourinho was brought back to bring Chelsea back to their former heights.

A brief look at the current Chelsea team would present marked differences from Mourinho’s team in 2004. Gone were experienced stalwarts, big names and expensive flops which were now replaced by a backbone of young yet precocious talents. Although stars from his trophy laden first stint Frank Lampard and John Terry remained, Mourinho is faced with managing the best young team in the country.

With the entry of new talent such as Andre Schurrle and Marco Van Ginkel, Chelsea and Mourinho have perhaps addressed long standing problems in terms of playing positions as well as squad depth. The only thing left was to get all these distinct flavours to blend together well during preseason and blend them together he did. It is no secret that Chelsea’s preseason (barring the loss to Real Madrid) had been largely successful. It is also in preseason where the key improvements and weaknesses of the squad have come to light.

Tactics: The midfield battle

Mourinho stormed to back to back premier league titles by utilising a rigid 4-3-3 system that leveraged on fast wingers to catch oppositions off guard on the counter attack. This system was maintained by a strong defensive line and screened by Claude Makelele, one of the best defensive midfielders in the game. It is obvious that the key component of the strategy involves a dynamic midfield with excellent wingers. This season, Mourinho looks set to tweak upon that formula with his set of players to deliver the same results.

While wingers Arjen Robben and Damien Duff have left, their loss have been stemmed by the arrival of newer and arguably more diverse players in the form of Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle and Victor Moses. These 3 players are not the only out and out wingers in the squad, as Oscar and Ramires have also been given an extended run on the flanks.

Throughout preseason, the system of a rotating triumvirate started by Di Matteo last season seems to have been retained by Mourinho, albeit with a twist. In the system used by Di Matteo, ball playing creative midfielders are given freedom to utilize the ball and move around the final third unencumbered. However, Mourinho has clearly recognised the defensive fragilities of the system and the effect it has on the team’s striker; where ball playing midfielders restrict space for strikers to utilize. Hence it was important for Mourinho to find the right kind of player combinations to draw the best out of his strikers.

So far, we have mostly seen Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle compete for spots on the left flank, while Oscar or Victor Moses compete for chances on the right flank. The reason behind such a grouping is because both sets of players offer ample coverage in both positions and remain malleable to perform well against any opposition that they might face in the season ahead.

By starting Schurrle and Moses together, Mourinho shows clear signs of utilizing more out and out wingers to create chances, much like Arjen Robben and Damien Duff in the past. Both wingers are comfortable cutting in to shoot, although Moses has shown himself to be more of a provider than a goal getter unlike Andre Schurrle.

Eden Hazard however, looks most likely the favourite to start on the left hand side given his ability to give Mourinho the best of both worlds. During preseason, his understanding with compatriot Kevin De Bruyne produced outstanding link up plays and goals. Most importantly, his two footedness, vision and ability to score make him a better-rounded winger who can play to the lines as well as come in and create through the center. It is clear that Mourinho has high hopes for Eden Hazard, with the Belgian evidently taking more chances and given more freedom to impose himself on the ball compared to the other players.

Unfortunately, the only downside to this new system would be the displacement of Oscar from the main team. Oscar plays best through the center, a position that is heavily contested by Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne. Shifting him out of the right is a move that limits his influence on play. While Oscar is young and has the pace to play as a right winger, he has shown himself to be less effective when compared to Victor Moses. Seeing how Mourinho works the Brazilian into the team will be interesting.

In center midfield, Mourinho has shown a tendency to use three players. While the shape may look like a 4-2-3-1, it is in fact 4-3-3 that contains a double pivot of center midfielders with a slightly advanced player in front of them. This highlights a move away from a favoured one man screen which Mourinho used to favour in his first stint.

With Makelele, Mourinho had a player who could singlehandedly break down plays and create from deep. However, the club lacks a capable replacement for Makelele and hence Mourinho has adapted to this by using a more flexible and dynamic pivot of box to box midfielders (much like the Brazil National team pivot of Paulinho and Gustavo).

In this setting, Ramires looks most certain to be the indispensible player in this midfield while Marco Van Ginkel, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel compete to be his partner. Upon further examination, these 3 players have many qualities that offer a wide range of dimensions to the Chelsea midfield when paired with Ramires.

Essien looks the most capable defensively and that gives Ramires the opportunity to bomb forward using his immense pace, much like last season. However, it is to be noted that the “Bison”(Essien) is also just as capable moving forward as a Box to Box midfielder. With such dynamic qualities between the two, it is likely that we see Ramires and Essien paired together in important games. Meanwhile, Mikel remains the most viable option in games that require a more defensive focus while Van Ginkel is an interesting alternative given his abilities being a cross between Mikel and Ramires. With Michael Essien ageing and injury prone, expect Van Ginkel to fill in from time to time.

In attacking midfield, Juan Mata, the club’s best performer for last season faces strong competition in a position that was rarely contested when he first arrived at the club. As it stands, Kevin De Bruyne and interestingly Frank Lampard, represent his closest competitors as creative outlets. It is the move of Frank Lampard further upfield that draws more attention given the veteran’s deployment in defensive midfield over the past few years.

From preseason, it is clear that Mourinho intends for the Chelsea all-time top scorer to ply perhaps his last season as the sides creative fulcrum and goal threat. While Lampard’s age and relative decrease in mobility make a strong case against his new position, it could be said that Jose Mourinho looks to utilize more of the Englishman’s underated passing ability and intelligent movement to fashion out chances for the team. Furthermore, Lampard’s ability to shoot from distance also offers new outlets for goals (evident from his well taken goal against Roma in preseason).

On the flipside, Kevin De Bruyne enters the team as a dark horse. A fantastic passer of the ball, De Bruyne’s qualities include an innate understanding with fellow teammates Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. With the two featuring more in Mourinho’s plans, it is highly likely that he will tap on De Bruyne’s creativity and understanding to bring the best out of his Belgian contingent. Kevin De Bruyne is also a great reader of the game and has a knack for scoring exquisite goals.

The Key Player

While many can expect Juan Mata to continue his fine form for Chelsea, an increase in depth and talent of players in his position (such as Kevin De Bruyne) could see the Spaniard make lesser appearances this term.

In preseason, Mourinho has shown a preference towards using Chelsea’s talented Belgian contingent and that makes Eden Hazard a more likely choice to be the key man for Chelsea this season. Like Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, Eden Hazard has been given the freedom to express himself in attack. His sterling performances from the left flank in preseason have shown that the manager’s faith in the Belgian has not been misplaced.
At his best, Eden Hazard is fast, skilful and dangerous on the break. He creates, scores goals and is consistent as shown from last season. Where he, alongside Juan Mata, were the leading lights in a somewhat lacklustre campaign.

However, the Belgian star was more of a provider than a scorer of goals last season. This season, with Mourinho’s faith, he has to increase his tally of goals or risk being a liability rather than an asset to the team.

The Dark Horse

Victor Moses flirted through the radar of fans and a media during his move from Wigan a year ago. While fans of the club were familiar with his mazy dribbling and direct running from the right flanks, it was the general consensus that the Nigerian would face a difficult task of making a mark in the first team. However, Moses proved his critics wrong by turning in impressive performances for the club.

Often recognised as the only out and out winger in the squad last season, Moses offered width and creativity from the flanks which endeared him especially to Rafa Benitez, although a loss of form in the later part of the season cost him a regular berth in the squad.
In preseason however, the contributions of Victor Moses have yet again become apparent to all. Mourinho has even spoken fondly of the Nigerian’s hardworking and selfless qualities. In short, Moses is the sort of Winger that Mourinho likesand that could see him pipe Oscar to a regular starting place in the first team, given that he improves on his assists and goal count as well.

A winning mentality?

A hallmark of Mourinho teams would arguably be an indomitable spirit and huge levels of discipline to adhere to tough game plans. Inter Milan’s treble run and Chelsea’s dominance in the premier league were perhaps the best examples of the Portuguese’s ability to churn incredible results even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

However, it could be argued that the same spirit of invincibility that kept Chelsea unbeaten at Stamford Bridge throughout Mourinho’s first stint in the premier league is still missing from this current team. After all, the team is young and still inexperienced.

Aside from Frank Lampard, Peter Cech and John Terry, most of the team’s core are players who have yet to reach their prime and look fragile in big games. This was shown during Chelsea’s defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in preseason, where an arguably more experienced and confident side led by the marauding Ronaldo showed Chelsea what they lacked.

With all the talent in the Chelsea squad, Mourinho has to build a strong winning mentality within the squad for them to grind out crucial points against tougher teams. This is the key factor that could make or break their season.

The huge misses this season

Much has been made about Chelsea’s new youth system. On one hand, smart investments such as Romelu Lukaku and Ryan Betrand have successfully stepped up into the first team. On the other hand, some talented members of the reserves continue to face uncertain prospects of breaking into the first team.

While the loss of Wallace and Lucas Piazon is somewhat lamentable, one of the biggest misses would be Josh Mceachran, a player once touted as Lampard’s perfect replacement. It is surprising how Chelsea have continually failed to look within their youth system to find potential solutions for their midfield crisis which has plagued them for the better part of the last 2 years.

In Mceachran, Chelsea has a player who is adept at creating chances and controlling the midfield. While he has performed poorly in a defensive midfield role under Ancelotti, his ability to play any of of the 3 midfield attacking outlets makes him at the least, a suitable back up to Juan Mata. Instead, he was shipped out on loan for yet another season to Middlesbrough last season. If not of Mata’s consistency and class last season, his absence would have been a huge loss to the team in need of depth.

During his loan, Josh performed amicably, often known for his strong ball retention skills and vision to start attacking moves. For his efforts, he won the Middlesbrough young player of the season award. It was expected that Mourinho, a long-time admirer of Josh seemed mostly likely to offer Mceachran a chance to prove his worth to the club. Yet he was missing from all of the preseason action.

Now as Mceachran awaits decisions on yet another loan move, it pains Chelsea fans that they have to wait yet another year before they can finally see a home grown Englishman break into the first team.

Chelsea may have bought well, but they have yet again failed to make the best of the talents right under their noses.

Predictions and final musings

With the clubs gearing up for the new season, there has never been a more exciting season for Chelsea football club. As it stands, almost 6 teams could challenge for the premiership crown.

All of their close competitors have bought well. Manchester City look adequately stocked with talented and seasoned striking talents while Tottenham are a dangerous dark horse with their own Belgian contingent of Nacer Chadli, Jan Vertongen and Moussa Dembele. Manchester United are playing their season fergieless while Arsenal look set to challenge for trophies with a similarly talented young squad.

How will Chelsea fare in the new season? Personally, I feel that Chelsea stands a strong chance of winning 1st place.

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