Chelsea: Lack Of A World-Class Striker Cost Us Again
On Wednesday night it all became painfully apparent. For all his nous as a manager, and for all the talents he does have on the pitch at any one time, this season’s Chelsea team will be judged according to what they do not have: a world class, or failing that, talismanic striker. Whatever the difference may be, it is this player that wins you games like the one at Crystal Palace last weekend, and it’s players like this who make an impact on the biggest stage of them all.
Paris St Germain have a world class striker, and two very good ones. As is so often in the latter stages of this competition it wasn't the world class Zlatan Ibrahimovic who shone, but rather the energetic Argentinian Ezequiel Lavezzi and the burly Edinson Cavani. Both have been thorns in Chelsea’s side before, during their days at Napoli. This game had a very similar flavour to that first leg loss which cost Andre Villas Boas his job at Stamford Bridge two years ago.
That Chelsea side dramatically came back in the second leg. The difference between that side and this one is the shadow of Didier Drogba, and the void couldn’t be more obvious. Without the talismanic figure of Drogba it’s hard to see one of those famous nights like the 4-1 win over Napoli, or the 4-4 against Liverpool in 2009, which was also sealed by the big Ivorian. Frank Lampard so often popped up in these huge games in the past, but he is another player whose powers are on the wane, and the old magic touch hasn’t been present in some time.
Chelsea’s lack of striking prowess couldn’t be more obvious than when the manager opts to start such a big game without a recognised centre forward. Andre Schurrle was “everywhere but up-front” as Gary Neville so perfectly put it. At least he was involved in the play going forward though, as Mourinho said, "With Andre, at least I know we have one more player to have the ball, we have one more player to associate with the other players." Less can be said about another abject Fernando Torres performance.
His hold up play and ability to find a team mate when Chelsea launch a break are so detrimental to the way Mourinho likes to play he might as well play with ten rather than the Spaniard. I am loathe to quote Glenn Hoddle but he isolated the problem: "They didn’t have anyone to retain the ball in the second-half and if you do that away from home you are going to pay the price – and in the end they did."
To steal from the Americans, here is Torres' stat line: Shots (0), Passes in the Final Third (0 of 3), Successful Take-Ons (0 of 1), Won Aerial Duels (0 of 1), Fouls Suffered (0). Thanks for coming Fernando.
There was a wealth of attacking prowess on show from the French champions-elect though. They were ably supported by a beautifully balanced midfield trio of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Veratti, who overran David Luiz and Ramires. The two Brazilians were forced to break up the play by fouling. That midfield trio is the way you would buy a midfield with a blank cheque book. Experienced holding man, check. Energetic box-to-box player: check. Ball playing creative midfielder: check.
Chelsea lack the former and latter and playing the box-to-box man (Ramires) in the holding role. It wasn’t so much a case of Mourinho getting his tactics wrong as PSG having all the right weapons to attack from multiple angles. Dropping Oscar deep isn’t preferable, but it may just be necessary against that sort of trio. The only team in the Premier League with a midfield built that way have just become the title favourites, take that how you will.
Mourinho has been full of praise for his back four this season but the individual errors that have been absent finally stacked up, and all at once. Terry headed straight to Lavezzi, Luiz got his feet into a tangle and put the ball into his own net and then everyone switched off as Javier Pastore danced through and beat Petr Cech at his near post. With a contract offer reportedly on the table for Thibaut Courtois this week, and following another world class performance on the grandest stage against Barcelona the night before, the Belgian's time as Chelsea no.1 might be approaching faster than most think.
Needless to say Chelsea will require another miraculous, immaculate, night at the Bridge on Tuesday if they are to progress. Unfortunately it seems like the magic of past European campaigns may have dried up in favour of a pragmatism that just can’t function without all 11 cogs.
Follow Scott on Twitter, @scarey102