Jose Mourinho spent £63million in the transfer market this summer to kick-start his second spell as Chelsea boss, bringing in the likes of Andre Schurrle, Willian, Marco Van Ginkel, Mark Schwarzer, Samuel Eto’o, Christian Atsu and Cristian Cuevas. But the Portuguese hasn’t resolved what was the Blues’ single leading issue at the start of the summer – the need for a guaranteed, reliable goal scorer.
The footballing world is well aware that the returning Blues manager missed out on his single priority target in the summer transfer window. Capitalising on David Moyes’ vagueness over Wayne Rooney’s importance to Manchester United, the Special One described his summer transfer policy in a nutshell as ‘Rooney or bust’.
It took the first heavyweight clash of the season, Chelsea’s scoreless draw with the Premier League champions in which the England international participated, to finally convince the West London outfit and the British media that despite intense speculation stating otherwise, Rooney wasn’t for sale, but even so, it appeared from the offset there would be a limit to how much Mourinho was willing to pay for the United forward.
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And with the summer’s leading three striking properties – Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao and Robert Lewandowski – deciding their allegiances early on in the transfer window, Chelsea’s need for a prolific goal scorer was not fulfilled. Therefore, Mourinho turned to an old ally in Samuel Eto’o, whom he claimed the treble with at Inter Milan, as a last minute solution following reports from Russia that former club Anzhi were holding a fire-sale of all their high-earning imported talents.
The Cameroon international brings great quality and experience, but he doesn’t solve Chelsea’s striking conundrum. Last season, the Blues were found wanting up front, with Fernando Torres finding just eight Premier League goals all season and Demba Ba netting on two lonesome occasions in 14 appearances since his £7million move from Newcastle in January.
Rather than providing any particular improvement however, Eto’o is simply another striker thrown into the mix. The former Barcelona and Inter Milan man has been written-off too early by some considering he’s maintained an average of 0.5 goals per game throughout his three years with Anzhi, but to suggest we’ll see the kind of form that produced 108 goals in 140 La Liga appearances at the Nou Camp would be equally as unjustified.
Eto’o is only 32 years of age, and the best estimate of his current abilities lies somewhere in between. A realistic hope in terms of output from the Cameroonian this season would probably be eight to twelve Premier League goals.
But perhaps that’s all the Blues need if Mourinho can get the balance right between three centre-forwards that appear to have almost parallel status in the Stamford Bridge pecking order. The Portuguese will be hoping he can push Fernando Torres to become a more reliable entity up front domestically after netting nine goals in Europe last season, and although Demba Ba has endured a slow start in West London, a record of 36 goals in 66 English top flight appearances from spells with Newcastle and West Ham speaks for itself.
There was a time when Manchester United underwent a similar challenge, although unlike Chelsea their strikers had maintained strong goal-scoring form. From the mid-90’s to around 2001, the Red Devils’ forward line was rotated between Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sherringham and Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer to great effect, with none particular dominating in terms of appearances but all producing goals on a regular basis.
The internal competition brought out the best in them, and Mourinho will expect a similar benefit from having Eto’o, Torres and Ba fight over the lone striking slot in the Chelsea starting XI. But at this point, it’s hard to suggest any will exceed the 15 goal mark.
That being said, perhaps it’s not exclusively goals Mourinho is looking for. Priority target Wayne Rooney has only scored 15 goals or more for three of his eleven seasons in the top flight, and having the ability to link up with Chelsea’s exceptionally talented midfield will be just as important as lethality in front of goal for any of Chelsea’s striking trio.
Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Willian and Oscar are all established goal-scoring midfielders, three of whom hit double figures domestically last season, and from what we’ve seen in Chelsea’s opening three Premier League fixtures, the attacking midfield hub still remains the Blues’ most integral on-pitch department.
Mourinho has charged Hazard – who netted nine times in the Premier League last season – with improving his scoring record this year, and although the Belgian is yet to get off the mark in the Premier League, I anticipate he will better the level of output from his first campaign in West London.
But it does put Chelsea at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to their two Manchester rivals. United can claim a strike force composed of last season’s top scorer Robin Van Persie, along with Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, whilst City have bolstered considerably up front this summer and now have four leading forwards in Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo, Segie Augero and Stevan Jovetic, all of whom could stake a claim to a first team slot.
It is, after all, goals that decide games, and the more strikers at your disposal, the higher chance of getting a goal, especially under difficult circumstances. And it’s that lack of cutting edge up front, that lack of faith in any particular one of Chelsea’s strikers to come up with last minute goal when they most need it, that could prove the most detrimental to the Blues’ title hopes this season.
Is Chelsea’s strike force a concern to their title hopes?
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