Chelsea: Without Costa We'll Struggle, Drogba Is Just Not Capable Anymore
Jose Mourinho has been trolling fantasy football managers all season.
The Chelsea manager has been classifying his terrifying striker Diego Costa as a doubt every week so far, keeping fantasy, and real life, managers firmly in the dark, and on their toes. On Wednesday night Mourinho's comments on Costa's fitness were far less playful. In fact, they were worrying.
Mourinho's admission that Diego Costa requires a week between games to let his glass hamstrings recover is not a surprise, but it does confirm some very real fears for Chelsea fans. Costa has been in devastating form so far this season, making himself worryingly indispensable to Chelsea. With the club competing on four fronts a week is a significant timeframe. As the Champions League games mount up Mourinho will be forced to manage the Spain striker's fitness, and having to face Manchester City on Sunday tipped the scales towards resting him (despite his denial to use the word "rest").
Didier Drogba was favoured to lead the line over Loic Remy on Wednesday night against a struggling Schalke side. Mourinho opted for the experienced Ivorian over the raw pace of Remy. The fact that he had to bring both Costa and Remy on after 70 minutes was an admission of fault. Drogba was a lumbering shadow of his former self. He ran all the same channels, posted up for the same straight long balls out from the back, and led the press with typical aggression and arm waving.
The problem is that the 36 year old version of Drogba couldn't get to the ball first down the channel, couldn't hold the ball up with the same degree of comfort, and his heavy frame couldn't close people down at the same rate as Chelsea fans will fondly remember.
Drogba should be able to still compete at this level simply by using his strength and intelligence, but everything is a step off. He was second to loose balls, slow to meet through passes and when given his one chance of the game, his touch was a little too tense, all the old looseness of limb and assured touch gone, leading to a scuffed strike.
Mourinho could have helped his old talisman more though. I love Cesc Fabregas playing the no.10 role, as he did against Schalke, but only when he is feeding through someone with Costa or Remy's pace. Fabregas' skill set was wasted here and he would have been better deployed deep. Putting pace and movement around Drogba would have allowed him to hold up the ball and keep things simple. Eden Hazard was a menace all evening, but struggled to link up with his front man. Andre Schurrle should have started.
It didn't help that Ramires was typically abject in central midfield. His passing was awry (37 of 44, 4 of 8 in the final third), he got caught in possession and he simply failed to halt the counter attack which led to the goal (yes it would have required a cynical foul on the half way line, but sometimes players have to do this for the good of the team).
The result, in the end, was a disappointing start to the Champions League campaign, but having lost at home to Basel on the opening week of the competition last year, it definitely isn't disastrous. Chelsea had two shots cleared off the line and missed a host of half-chances, with Drogba the most obviously wayward. They will have better nights.
It's safe to say that without Costa leading the line Chelsea looked a different side though. Yes they were denied with goal-line clearances twice in the game, and a magical Cesc pass for Eden Hazard drew a wonderful save (why the internet has yet to gif this I do not know), but the free scoring Chelsea fans were starting to get used to weren't there without the beast from Brazil. Mourinho looked to the past for answers on Wednesday night, unfortunately Drogba's Champion League heroics are almost certainly a thing of the past.