The question of who will lead Jose Mourinho’s new Chelsea attack has been prominent news in this Premier League off-season.
Fernando Torres? Demba Ba? The returning Romelu Lukaku? Or new signing Andre Schurrle, who has the ability to play through the middle?
Most people assume there will be a new big-money arrival before the start of the new season. Radamel Falcao, Hulk, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, Christian Benteke, and even Christiano Ronaldo are some of the names that have been linked with Chelsea over the past few months.
Some definitely won’t be coming and some would be very unlikely, especially since Mourinho has now reportedly said it is 'Wayne Rooney or bust.'
Most of them, however, would be pointless to spend millions on unless Chelsea can remember how to play without Didier Drogba.
That’s not to say no other strikers can be a success at Chelsea, but this team is still playing in the shadow of their departed hero, Drogba. That is perhaps unsurprising with the void of such a uniquely talented player remaining, but not all other players have the combination of size, strength, instincts, power, skill and aerial ability to take over any game regardless of the situation.
At times Drogba was able to turn a game around single-handedly when Chelsea were struggling because of his special set of abilities.
As players like Torres, Andriy Shevchenko and Nicolas Anelka have found out to varying degrees, Chelsea’s first-choice way of playing over the last decade always had Drogba leading from the front. If the tactics were not working, the team knew they could always just get the ball towards him in the opposition’s half and there was a fair chance he’d take care of the rest.
This was especially clear in home games against supposed weaker opposition who would defend deep. Stamford Bridge has a small pitch so it would become difficult to play through ten men with slick passing, and with the pace slowed and space limited, it would be harder to get the ball to stationary strikers in a dangerous position.
Conversely, if Chelsea were the team defending deep away from home, as they did in the latter stages of their Champions League winning campaign, no one was a better outlet than Drogba to relieve pressure, hold up the ball for support players, or create a chance for themselves.
So when other players of genuine but different qualities came into the team Chelsea often struggled to make the most of their abilities because it would mean focusing on different areas than they had become used to, such as runs down the channels, quick one-twos, or speed off the shoulder of the last defender.
It was no longer enough to just put a cross in towards the striker or loft a ball up towards him, because not everyone could bully defenders the way Drogba could.
Last season it seemed like some of Chelsea’s attacking players were playing in spite of the presence of Torres or Ba at times. As if some of them had discounted the forward because they couldn’t do the things they were used to and they felt they had a better chance of success if they kept the ball between themselves.
Of course figures such as Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and Oscar never played with Drogba, but those like Frank Lampard, Ramires, Ashley Cole, Ivanovic and Petr Cech did for years, and at times they seemed to be playing balls to the front they were accustomed to Drogba picking up, which ultimately failed with Ba and Torres.
While it is possible that Lukaku could become a similar player to Drogba, there are no guarantees. While there are some similarities between the two, it would be unfair to expect Lukaku to emulate a once-in-a-generation type player.
Torres has struggled at times admittedly, but it has not been entirely his fault, as was shown by Ba often being similarly isolated after he arrived. A new multi-million pound arrival could suffer the same fate if Chelsea don’t take a step back and play to individual strikers’ strengths.
Arguably, Chelsea have been guilty in the past of wasting the talents of Shevchenko, Anelka, Torres or Daniel Sturridge by playing them in wide positions to accommodate the dominant Drogba centrally. In turn this seems to have affected these players’ confidence, which had a negative effect when they were played in their natural position.
Chelsea now need to look at the qualities that the strikers in their team have and ensure they train and play to these strengths.
That way these players would benefit from supply tailored to them rather than having to attempt to play to the strengths of their colossal predecessor.
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