Chelsea FC – A few more signings away !
In one of my previous articles, I talked about the signings Chelsea needed to make in order to be complete. How and Why Eden Hazard had lost his directness. After a good summer transfer window and 11 games into the season, Chelsea are now 4 points ahead of second placed Southampton. However what amazed me was that while Chelsea have played some aesthetically pleasing football this season little has changed in their approach and the way the team has been set up. Why has Eden Hazard remained less direct and more creative despite signing a World Class midfielder in Cesc Fabregas? Why has Mourinho not fielded Filipe Luis more often? And Are Chelsea really as complete as they look?
Despite being one of the best players for Chelsea this season Eden Hazard has got just one goal from open play and only three goals altogether this season(Premier League only) taking his tally in 2014 to just 9 goals, of which 5 of them have been penalties. Hazard has not provided a lot of assists either with just one assist this season.
The above image compares the contributions of the Chelsea wingers and attacking midfielders this season, Eden Hazard has been far better than his teammates in terms of creativity. Oscar’s average creativity and the lack of contributions from the other players has forced Hazard to continue with his creative role, one he had to take up for the second half of last season after the sale of Juan Mata and Oscar’s dip in form. The creative overload on Hazard has been preventing him from getting into areas where he can be more direct. It has affected his end products (goals and assists) as a winger. A lot of people including me believed that Hazard would find his directness back after the arrival of Cesc Fabregas but it hasn’t been the case so far. Cesc Fabregas has been lauded by a lot of fans, critics and pundits this season but how good has he actually been?
Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata:-
Prior to writing this article, I asked a lot of my friends to rate Cesc Fabregas’s performance on a scale of 0-10 this season and asked them how good Juan Mata was in his last season for Chelsea. A lot of people gave Fabregas a rating of 9 and above while they said Juan Mata was below par for Chelsea in his last season under Jose Mourinho. In reality, there has not been much of a difference in terms of their creativity.
The above image is a comparison of Cesc Fabregas of this season with Juan Mata in his last season for Chelsea. Unlike what most believed, Juan Mata has been the better player in terms of creativity. The reality here is that Diego Costa has done justice to Fabregas’s service unlike Torres, Eto’o and Demba Ba. One can argue that Fabregas plays in a much deeper role than what Mata did but he does venture a lot forward and has almost always found himself in a number 10 role during the game.
The above image clearly shows how efficient Diego Costa has been as a striker. Costa immediately hit the ground running at Chelsea following his summer transfer and already has 10 goals from 9 games. The striker has been very efficient in terms of shot accuracy opposed to the strikers Chelsea had last season.
Cesc Fabregas’s signing has without doubt been a boost for Chelsea, I am not telling Mata has been better here but that they both did a great job and the lack of a quality striker was the difference between the two. Fabregas has added a new dimension to Chelsea’s style of football and they not only play aesthetically pleasing football now but have also controlled the midfield and the game better. Fabregas and Matic have been the sole reason for this, something Juan Mata could not offer. Fabregas has also been better in terms of work rate and defensive contributions than Mata but Mata has been the more creative player, someone who allowed Eden Hazard to play a more direct role, which Oscar is not able to do.
Cesc Fabregas and Mata have a lot of similarities too, they are small team bullies ! The Spanish duo have been ruthless against the smaller teams in the premier league. Chelsea’s quest to the Premier league title last season was stopped by poor displays against some of the smaller teams in the second half of the season, the lack of creativity in the final third is the reason for it.
Mata had been absolutely fantastic against the smaller teams, the ones Chelsea struggled against last season. His contributions against the bigger teams was immense too and I feel Chelsea should have kept the Spaniard. Fabregas so far has had a similar start to the season, he has been extremely ruthless against the smaller teams and has put in good performances in the games against the big teams too.
The image above shows Fabregas’s stats in the 2014-15 Barclays Premier league season so far. Apart from the Villa and Manchester City game Fabregas has actively contributed in each of the other 8 games. What I’m trying to tell here is, both Cesc and Mata were solutions for the problems Chelsea faced but in a different way and from different positions. The important difference here is that Eden Hazard was far more prolific and direct when Juan Mata was in charge of the creative role and since Cesc operates from a deeper role Hazard is forced to continue with the creative role. However this is only one of the reasons as to why Hazard is forced to work in a creative role. The primary reason for me is the lack of a quality Right Winger.
The lack of a quality right winger :-
Willian and Schurrle are not good enough to start for a team challenging for the title. Willian has been very average for Chelsea apart from the work rate he offers while Schurrle has been extremely inconsistent so far. Both of Chelsea’s right backs Azpilicueta and Ivanovic are not good at going forward either and this has only added to Mourinho’s woes. With almost no attacking outlet on his right wing, Mourinho has been forced to sacrifice his right wing completely, which in turn has led to him shifting to an approach he used throughout the second half of last season, their one dimensional approach- attacking on the left wing with Eden Hazard as their primary attacking outlet in the final third.
A combination of Oscar’s average creativity, the lack of attacking potential on the right wing have forced Hazard into continuing with this role, Chelsea should have signed a top quality right winger in the summer, someone like Alexis Sanchez or Cuadrado, the latter is still available. The lack of a right winger has also forced Mourinho into switching off after taking the lead against the bigger teams. He simply does not have enough quality at his disposal to kill the games against the big teams and has hence resorted to a more defensive approach for the remainder of the game to win 3 points, this has cost him to drop points in 2 out of 3 games despite taking the lead first.
Jose Mourinho has already fielded Ramires twice as a right winger this season in the hope that the Brazilian would be an interim solution to the problems and that he would offer more than what Willian and Schurrle do.
The fullbacks and the current system:-
One question most Chelsea fans have been asking is Why isn’t Filipe Luis playing? As the game evolves, fullbacks have had an increasingly important role and both Ivanovic and Azpilicueta have not done justice to their role in terms of going forward, while they have arguably been the best fullback pairing in the league in terms of their defensive contributions.
There are three reasons why I feel Jose Mourinho has opted for Ivanovic and Azpilicueta ahead of Filipe Luis despite the latter being one of the best left backs in the world.
1. Narrow defensive shape from fullbacks:-
Unlike Ivanovic and Azpilicueta, Filipe Luis cannot tuck into a narrow shape to form a more organized shape in defense for Chelsea. The fullbacks concede space to the opposition wingers and trust their wingers to trackback and cover for them.
2. Ivanovic- Set piece threat:-
The Serbian has always been a set piece threat whenever he has played for Chelsea, pitching in crucial goals in more than one occasion. With Ivanovic along with Cahill,Matic,Terry and Costa,Chelsea are a huge set piece threat. Mourinho seems to have preferred Ivanovic in the starting lineup for this reason.
3. The current system :-
Another reason for both Ivanovic and Azpilicueta starting is because of the current system in place. As mentioned earlier, the fullbacks move into narrow shape while defending which requires the wingers to track back and deal with attacks on the wings. Schurrle despite having a decent start to the season is overlooked by Mourinho in bigger games because Willian does a better job tracking back and Willian seems likely to feature more after Schurrle’s mistake led to the City equalizer when the teams met earlier this season.
Willian however has been very poor in terms of creativity and as an attacking outlet and this has forced Mourinho to use Fabregas in a more advanced role when Chelsea have the ball. With Fabregas moving forward, Matic has to provide cover for him apart from his usual role of protecting the back 4. With an attacking fullback like Filipe Luis, a team’s defensive midfielder has to provide cover for the fullback or the space is left exposed when he is caught out of position in attack. With Matic involved in providing cover for Cesc he cannot offer this protection to Luis and hence Luis becomes more of a liability going forward than an asset because Hazard already does more than enough on the left wing.
These problems for Chelsea can only be solved by signing a right winger, to provide attacking options on the right flank.They also need to sign a replacement for John Terry, this can be done in two ways, either sign a quality right back like Seamus Coleman who can attack as well as defend and play Ivanovic as a centerback or they should sign a centerback and rotate between Azpilicueta and Ivanovic as right backs while using the latter as a cover for the centerback position. Chelsea should however go for a quality right back if one is available.
Chelsea also need to sign another midfielder, Matic is actually a box to box midfielder who has been deployed as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea. Chelsea have 3 options here, either they can sign a defensive midfielder like Carvalho to partner Matic and play Fabregas in a more advanced number 10 role, or they can sign a box to box midfielder like Pogba to partner Matic and deploy Cesc in the number 10 role and the final option is to sign a more creative attacking midfielder like Isco or Gotze and field them in the number 10 role. The first option would make the midfield perfectly balanced and would allow Chelsea to play attacking fullbacks on both their wings while having Cesc Fabregas in the advanced role for creativity.
Verdict: While Chelsea have been excellent so far this season, they are far from being complete. They must sign a right winger, a right back or a center back and another midfielder depending on the availability of the players. Juan Cuadrado,Gerrard Pique, Pedro Rodriguez ,Isco,Seamus Coleman and William Carvalho are a few players Chelsea should look at because they could be available.Once these signings are done Chelsea would be more balanced and complete, which in turn would bring the best out of their players especially their star man Eden Hazard, who has been forced into playing a more unnatural role.