So with five pre-season games now completed and two Milanese giants soundly beaten, safe to say I think the majority of us must like what we’re seeing. I’d definitely say what has been most pleasing part is the way in which everybody has contributed to the results and performances so far, looking sharp and working hard, as they look to make their individual cases for a spot in the starting XI come August 17th. Now as we start to see more and more of each player, a clearer picture is beginning to form in terms of the quality and structure of the squad for next season. We can also start thinking about what possible tactics will be used and begin making predictions re: who will fit in to Mourinho’s early season plans and how?
Those of you who watched the previous two matches of the US tour on Chelsea TV, will have seen matchday hosts Ben Andrews and Jason Cundy begin to do this already. Usually I like them both a lot as broadcasters and pundits, however, I don’t really like or agree with what they’ve been saying so far. Specifically I don’t like the two points that Cundy keeps making in support of Cahill and regarding the apparently desperate need for a new striker…
What annoys me about his views on Cahill is that like other journalists and pundits on TV, he’s taken to questioning whether other members of the squad are ‘Mourinho-type players’, which I think is a very lazy contestation to make. Purely because of the huge range of different players Jose has coached and utilised to such great effect over the last ten years. Okay there are obviously certain types of players he prefers (inverted wingers being the most obvious example) – but this notion that there exist types of players fundamentally incompatible with Jose’s style of coaching is an absurd one. However, if there was one player in the squad that you would struggle to associate with the sort of teams Mourinho has created in the past, surely it would have to be Gary Cahill?
Alright he’s fast and he’s committed and good with the ball at his feet, like the majority of Mourinho’s centre halves down the years, but from Carvalho and Terry to Lucio, Samuel, Pepe and Ramos, another quality all these players share is physicality. And put it this way, I don’t play FIFA but I can’t imagine Cahill’s physicality rating is especially high – and if it is then it’s wrong. His entire game is based around his (albeit impressive) ability to read the play and make blocks and interceptions, rather than physically impose himself on the opposition front men, staying close and tackling hard the way (history suggests) Mourinho wants his centre halves to play. How Cundy doesn’t realise this I’m not sure, but his belief that the manager will prefer Cahill to Ivanovic and David Luiz (who use their weight and strength as readily and intelligently as anyone in the league) seems a fairly groundless one to me. We’ll have to see, but if Cahill gets more game time than either Brana or Luiz this season then I’ll be very surprised.
The other point that Cundy keeps making and is getting on my nerves, is this idea that a world class striker is a necessity for Chelsea this season. And I don’t like the point because 1) that a great centre forward would improve this or any squad is so obvious that it’s a totally pointless platitude and 2) there are plenty of examples of successful sides across Europe succeeding and winning things recently without great strikers. Juventus have won the last two Serie A titles with the highest return from a striker being Mirko Vucinic’s 14 goals last year. Whilst Bayern Munich managed to win the treble with their main forward Mario Mandzukic only scoring 21 goals – two less than Fernando Torres’ final tally last season.
And also, let’s be honest, if there is one team in the Premier League who doesn’t need to rely on a centre forward to score goals then it’s Chelsea. Think of it this way: In our double winning season in 2010 we scored 142 goals. Now if you say Mata, Oscar, Hazard and Lampard are all good for at least 10 goals each, (say 50 between them); then Ramires, De Bruyne, Moses and Schurrle should collectively contribute another 30 without too much trouble; and remember last season our centre halves alone scored 26 goals and I can’t see why they won’t do that again. That leaves us with the three strikers just needing 40 goals between them (13 each) to equal our league and cup winning total. Hardly a tall order is it?
Finally, I also think all this talk about strikers is detracting from the ‘actual’ problem (yet to be brought up by Andrews and Cundy) that we have with our midfield. Probably the biggest tactical dilemma that di Matteo and Benitez struggled with, and the one that now faces JM, is that whilst our young attacking midfielders are all obviously better accommodated in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the system is equally clearly not suited to any of our central midfielders, all of whom would be better playing in a 4-3-3, lacking either the mobility (Mikel & Essien) or the discipline (Ramires & Lampard) to operate in a double pivot. You could argue in Lampard’s case he doesn’t have the legs to play there either – especially against the tougher sides.
This is why, much more than Rooney, I was hoping Chelsea would sign Daniele De Rossi, whose rumoured transfer seems to have just gone cold completely. The club’s apparent decision not to strengthen in that area has left us with Marco Van Ginkel arguably being the only natural player for that position we have. And with his inexperience of the division I guess we’re set for another year of watching Mikel and Ramires playing there together. Two very good players of course, but as we’ve seen, with the pressure on the forwards to score regularly not being all that drastic, it seems to me that the midfield is the problem area in the squad we should be discussing at the moment. Hopefully it won’t take a schooling by Modric and Khedira on Wednesday to realise it…