Schürrle Not? Why This Season Could Be Time For Andre To Shine At Chelsea
Jose Mourinho set his stall out before the season even began: “Frank is the history of the club, history nobody can forget," said Mourinho. "Fabregas is the future; history is history but the future is more important at the moment."
In his interview after Chelsea's season opener away to newly promoted Burnley, Mourinho was full of praise: “I agree with you in giving Fabregas man of the match. He was the maestro, he controlled the tempo of the game, he controlled the first phase. […] He was the man that dictates the speed, intensity and direction of the game.”
There is one word here that stands out: maestro. It’s not a word often associated with Chelsea Football Club. Deco was meant to be the maestro but never was. Claude Makelele, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien were all fantastic players but they were enforcers, not maestros. Frank Lampard got by on his goals, not his cultured passing game. In Fabregas Mourinho has a player that can change the culture of the team overnight, and the early signs at Turf Moor on Monday night were positive.
Fabregas was the metronome, completing 76 of 87 passes (4 of the unsuccessful passes were into the penalty area) and providing 2 assists on the night. His midfield partner Oscar completed 56 and his new foil in midfield Nemanja Matic 61 of 72.
In Matic and Fabregas the Chelsea manager can consider himself to hold the best midfield duo in the league. They complement each other beautifully, with Matic able to cover and dominate huge areas in the middle of the pitch using his size and range, allowing Cesc to drift into pockets and play the little give and goes he loves so much from his Barcelona schooling. Manchester City have someone that can do both in Yaya Toure, but he is just one man, and Arsenal have three or four midfield players that want to be the maestro. Liverpool have Jordan Henderson.
The second goal is the perfect example, and I mean perfect. Fabregas turned Chelsea into Barcelona for a 25 pass sequence that included short, sharp triangles across the pitch and which ended with a first time pass that found Andre Schurrle in stride. I keep watching it and the speed of thought is simply beyond me. The movement was excellent but the pass was one of class, touch and vision and Chelsea fans will want to see him do this week in week out against stubborn opposition. Frank Lampard would definitely have swung a boot at it.
It’s natural to focus on the new faces in the first game of the season, especially one as gentle as this. Thibaut Courtois looked comfortable in his new role as Chelsea number one as he came out and plucked balls from the air like an NBA Centre working off the glass. Sadly when reading between the lines it sounds like Petr Cech’s magnificent Chelsea career could be coming to an end. Speaking after the game Mourinho said, “He deserves every respect from us” and that he wouldn’t stand in the way if another club was to come in and offer the goalkeeper first team football. He's simply too good to sit on the bench.
Diego Costa started his Chelsea career by slowly eroding all the misjudged Didier Drogba comparisons. Costa is more in the mould of a younger Wayne Rooney, a stocky but powerful runner who chases lost causes and is far more comfortable with the ball played into feet than in the air. Costa will be judged on his goals though and he will be delighted to have got off the mark on his league debut, smashing a left footed shot home with a delightful lack of finesse.
Of the old guard Andre Schurrle is the one Chelsea fans should get most excited about. With increased game time the German could chip in with a dozen or so much-needed goals in a key supporting role to Costa. His relentless and intelligent off the ball movement was found by Fabregas on a couple of key occasions on Monday night and his style of wing play is a nice alternative to the direct dribbling of Eden Hazard and Willian.
Cesc will have tougher days in a Chelsea shirt. Seldom will he be allowed to play so comfortably to his own tempo within a midfield zone that Chelsea completely dominated. What he did show was a step change at the club as he put himself front and centre as the face of how Chelsea hope to play this year. You can criticise Chelsea for taking their foot off the pedal in the second half but this was just the second phase of what they were doing the whole game, namely playing at their own pace. Let's hope the maestro can keep conducting the orchestra for years to come.