Chelsea's minor recovery continued in a solid, yet unspectacular, 0-0 draw away at Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The Blues were able to secure back-to-back clean sheets for only the second time this season, in a performance reminiscent of the defensive steel they showed last season.
However, in front of goal, Chelsea were still unable to reproduce the goods which set the Premier League alight 12 months ago.
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Chelsea started the game brightly as they assumed control of their opponents. The passing in the midfield was quick and decisive, with no one taking too many touches and slowing down the tempo. In the wide areas, the Premier League champions looked lively, with Eden Hazard showing glimpses of the man that drew so much praise last season.
It was the Belgian who came the closest in the opening spell of the game. After teeing up Cesc Fabregas, the Spaniard's shot rebounded to Hazard, who faced up to his defender before shifting the ball onto his right foot and shooting low towards the corner. Kiev's veteran goalkeeper, Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, was on hand to turn the ball onto the post via his fingertips to keep the scores level.
This early frustration escalated in the 17th minute, when Fabregas got behind the Kiev defence, skipping inside his man before being brought down. The penalty claims were waved away by the referee, who was in a great position to see the tangle of legs.
Chelsea went close again in the first half when Willian's free kick somehow evaded the outstretched leg of Diego Costa, rendering the game a stalemate at the break.
The second half saw less goal-mouth action for Chelsea, with the stand-out chance once more created by a Willian free kick. After making an interception deep in Kiev's half, the Brazilian skipped past a recovering defender, tripped in the process. His whipped free kick from 25 yards rocked the underside of the bar, leaving Chelsea fans the feeling it could be 'one of those days'.
Throughout the game, but especially in the second half, Jose Mourinho's men lacked creativity in attack. On the odd occasion, Chelsea's attacking players were afforded space in the Kiev half, there was a lack of spark and decisiveness. Costa, again, worked hard without reward and was living off scraps throughout the 90 minutes.
This has been a theme for Chelsea this season. Overshadowed by their defensive frailties, the Premier League champions have not been the attacking force they were last season.
Even in Saturday's 2-0 win against Aston Villa, the Stamford Bridge side relied upon goals which were later described as "fluky" by Villa manager Tim Sherwood. In fact, Hazard's post-rattling strike is the closest their second highest scorer last term has come to scoring so far this campaign.
On Tuesday, a fairly simple observation and cause for their attacking woes was the lack of numbers pushing forward. Nemanja Matic and Ramires seemed to be under strict instructions to sit and protect the back four while full-backs Cesar Azpilicueta and Kurt Zouma rarely crossed the halfway line. This made Chelsea very solid at the back, but also resulted in a lack of blue shirts in Kiev's penalty area when the away team attacked.
Chelsea need to find a way of being an attacking threat again without having a detrimental effect on their defence. There are two ways of achieving this.
Against Kiev, Willian and Hazard were fantastic at tracking back, providing plenty of support to their full-backs. However, it meant when they counter-attacked, they weren't far enough up the pitch to cause a threat.
Mourinho needs to free up his wingers in order to get the best out of them going forward. It was disappointing to hear the manager justify dropping Hazard by comparing his defensive work to that of Pedro and Willian.
The Belgian won't rediscover his confidence by tracking a full-back back into his own penalty area and this isn't something he would do naturally. Hazard needs goals and assists to rediscover the form of last season and Mourinho must realise that £32 million wingers are in the game to attack, not defend.
This is not to say Hazard should be relieved of all duties, nor should Willian. More faith has to be shown in the full-backs to do their job, especially with two holding midfielders on hand to help combat overloads.
Chelsea need to get Costa scoring regularly again, but he won't if he remains so isolated and without supply. The Blues often play too narrow and rarely get anyone to the by-line to cross the ball in from dangerous areas.
Mourinho likes his full-backs to play in an old-fashioned style, as defenders not attackers. However, in modern football, full-backs need to do both and holding them back is limiting the supply to Costa.
Despite an upturn in defensive showings recently, Chelsea need to up their offensive game to compete for trophies again.
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