A lot has been made recently about Chelsea’s supposed striking problems. Samuel Eto’o is still taking his time to adjust to the Premier League after his spell in Russia whilst Fernando Torres is still yet to replicate his form whilst at Liverpool. Demba Ba is clearly not a valued member of the side and the only Chelsea striker to score in the league this season is Romelu Lukaku, who is out on loan at Everton. The thing is, there is a case to be made that the real concern in the Chelsea line-up is the midfield.
When Jose Mourinho was first in charge of Chelsea he had a midfield trio of talented players, all playing at the top of their games. Claude Makélélé was the perfect anchor in midfield, freeing up the likes of Frank Lampard and Tiago, two more attack minded players. With the likes of Duff, Cole and Robben on the wings Chelsea were terrific and they terrorised the Premier League.
This time around things are a bit different; for starters it looks like Mourinho is adapting his formation to a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-3-3. Additionally rather than playing with out and out wingers Mourinho is using “inside forwards” i.e. wingers who prefer to cut inside rather than run down the line. Eden Hazard and Andre Schürrle are perfect examples of this although all of Chelsea’s wide men do fit this category. In the first half we didn’t make any real impact to Fulham’s backline and after the interval you could see that Mourinho had told the wide men to stick to their wings.
The ironic thing is that Mourinho had two players of similar ilk at Real Madrid in Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria, both of whom love to cut inside. The argument from Mourinho would be though that they both were more than happy to run down the line and attack their full-back. Interestingly the first time Schürrle did run down the line was in the build-up to our opening goal. The German skipped past Sasha Riether and it might be something that Mourinho looks to build on in coming weeks.
The other problem presented by Schürrle being played on the left was the arrangement of Hazard and Oscar. The Brazilian started behind Eto’o but when Schürrle was switched to the left he went on the right to allow Hazard to play in the middle. Hazard is such a dangerous player that he will be a threat anywhere but I still believe he is best out on the left which doesn’t leave a place for Schürrle in the starting XI.
Then there is the centre of midfield, a position where we lack genuine quality. If you look at a team like Manchester City with Fernandinho and the irrepressible Yaya Touré, we just don’t compete. Ramires isn’t a winger and he is more of a central midfielder but playing him alongside John Obi Mikel just seems far too defensive. Mikel is improving under Mourinho and of course his goal does deserve a mention but neither of them provide attacking impetuous. They can get forward to decent effect but it is glaring obvious how weak the centre of our midfield is.
Frank Lampard isn’t the player that he used to be and although he can still do a job he definitely can’t do it as often. Someone like Luka Modric would be perfect foil to either Mikel or Ramires but he seems settled at Madrid and is unlikely to be interested in joining now. In the short-term I propose that Kevin De Bruyne is moved back to the centre of midfield to play alongside a more defensive minded player. He has excellent passing, dribbling and vision and would be a wonderful midfield playmaker. In addition to this he isn’t afraid to shoot from distance and unlike some others in the squad he is normally fairly accurate.
Clearly De Bruyne is better suited to playing further forward but with our wealth of attacking options playing in centre midfield might be the best way for him to get regular game time. He would provide Chelsea and Mourinho with a stop-gap whilst they look for an obvious replacement. Clearly those in charge view Marco van Ginkel as the long-term midfield option and perhaps reverting to a 4-3-3 is the way forward. With Oscar and De Bruyne/van Ginkel as the attacking players and Ramires or Mikel sitting deep we might become more of a threat and hopefully less lethargic than we looked against Fulham.
I haven’t touched on the Juan Mata situation in this piece but I will be doing so in my blog on Thursday.