Although Chelsea ran out 3-0 winners over Schalke in last night’s Champions League clash, the scoreline flattered the London club, with a lack of creativity in midfield clear to see.
Their German opponents turned up at Stamford Bridge with a number of players that were over six foot, therefore Jose Mourinho opted for a less creative side, with John Obi Mikel’s inclusion adding height and strength to the midfield equation.
With Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard all missing out on a place in the starting line-up, Samuel Eto’o had to rely on the service provided by the chosen players that were sat in the midfield behind him.
In all fairness, the Cameroonian scored two goals, one of which was an instinctive block from Schalke’s goalkeeper’s kick, that saw the ball find the back of the net in bizarre fashion.
However, for large parts of the game, Chelsea’s midfield looked lost for ideas as they played the ball across the pitch without any real purpose.
Mikel, who is accepted for his simple method of passing, picked up the ball on a number of occasions before feeding it into his more creative teammates, yet it wasn’t long until the Nigerian had the ball back at his feet, as another move forward broke down without causing an impact.
Chelsea’s wide men were frequently receiving the ball, however it became very predictable as the play would move from side to side, as Chelsea struggled to find an opening.
If it wasn’t for Schalke’s poor finishing in front of goal, the home team quite easily would have found themselves behind at the break and without the 32-year-old’s lucky goal, Mourinho would have been tempted to change things around for the second half.
The work-rate of last night’s midfield cannot be questioned though, as Ramires showed off his engine in the middle of the park, whilst Oscar and Willian pulled their weight, chasing down players and making life hard for the opposition.
But with the ball at their feet, they seemed more than happy to pass the responsibility onto someone else as the majority of possession was played across the Chelsea back line and midfield areas.
Juan Mata, who was voted the club’s player of the season for the last campaign, had to accept a place on the bench, alongside Frank Lampard, who is the club’s all-time top goalscorer.
Both players thrive in the final third and their exclusion from the starting eleven came as a surprise to many Chelsea fans, with their ability to create and score goals sorely missed in a scoreline that never really told the true story.
So with all this midfield talent that Chelsea are blessed with, how can their Portuguese coach find the right balance in terms of providing the defence with enough cover but also picking players that can unlock a defence?
Despite being in the autumn of his career, Lampard offers so much to the Chelsea side, with his ability to create and score goals evident after years of proof.
With Andre Schurlle, Willian, Hazard, Mata and Oscar to choose from in the wide areas and in behind the striker, Mourinho must opt for the more creative players, considering the best team’s in Europe won’t have a problem with their opponent’s keeping the ball outside the final third.
Ramires, Mikel and Michael Essien offer work-rate, intelligence and strength in front of the Chelsea defence, giving the former Real Madrid coach a range of options that will pick up the loose balls and play the simple passes.
With the London side competing to win four trophies this season, the abundance of options in midfield provides luxury to Mourinho’s job, however the tactician has his work cut out at the Bridge and finding the correct balance in the middle third will no doubt help his cause.
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