Maurizio Sarri has struggled to find a striker in form all season with Olivier Giroud, Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Morata all sharing the responsibility. On occasion star-man Eden Hazard has started in the false nine role, and this should be the approach the Blues take on Wednesday night in their Europa League final against Arsenal.
Chelsea have struggled for a consistent supply goals all season barring Hazard, highlighted by their constant rotating of the forward line including the wingers as well as just the strikers.
The Blues have managed just 63 goals in the league this season, the lowest number in the top six. It seemed that Morata would be allowed the chance to play regularly under Sarri, but trust shifted quickly with the Spaniard leaving on loan to Atletico Madrid.
Giroud has been the regular in the Europa League, sparking questions as to whether he’ll start again in the competition in this year’s final against his old club, while Higuain’s arrival from AC Milan was meant to give Sarri the forward he craved. The two have worked together before at Napoli where the Argentine found his best form, but he’s not got anywhere near his old heights in west London.
Trust for his forwards has withered away so much that Sarri has occasionally started Hazard up front as a false nine, opting to play this system in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.
If the Chelsea boss has learned anything from his meetings against Arsenal, it’s that they’ll take the game to his side and look to play on the front foot.
Unai Emery loves his side to press and suffocate opponents. Arsenal are likely to do the same on Wednesday night, so Chelsea will be smart to prepare for this.
When a side presses, you need your striker able to contribute to all phases of the role. While Hazard thrives when running at players, he also possesses the pace and drive to get in behind with incredible strength in possession when he needs to hold the ball up. When beating the Arsenal press, you need your striker to be unpredictable in order to keep the Arsenal defenders hesitant about stepping up the pitch.
If Giroud or Higuain were starting, the Gunners defenders would feel far more confident looking to anticipate the pass and win a physical battle – even if they don’t get the ball immediately, there’s no threat of the striker getting in behind too quickly for them to recover. Hazard will pose far more questions for Emery’s backline.
The other advantage in deploying Hazard in this role is that it’ll allow for Pedro to start on the right and Willian to play in his favourite position on the left wing. Arsenal’s full-backs have struggled all season against wingers with pace and trickery, and the inclusion of both direct forwards will give the Blues an interchangeability and speed up front that the Gunners will find very hard to deal with.
Though it’s been heavily criticised in the past, Sarri’s use of Hazard as a false nine could be key to Chelsea surpassing the Arsenal press and attacking them with pace over the top when the opportunity presents itself.