With the transfer window firmly shut, there aren't many sets of supporters that are happier with their club's squad than those of Chelsea. One point, however, that people keep pointing to is their strikers. With Romelu Lukaku being loaned out to Everton on deadline day and a perhaps over-the-hill Samuel Eto'o coming in, many people feel that Chelsea could struggle due to not having the likes of a Robin Van Persie up top.
I want to throw out the question, do Chelsea need one particular player to score so many goals?
Despite scoring over 20 goals in all competitions last season, many people feel that Fernando Torres' goal scoring stats are not high enough for a team aiming to challenge for trophies on all fronts.
20 goals in all competitions might not be the best return for a traditional lone striker but the role of Fernando Torres in the Chelsea team is vastly different to the traditional role of a lone striker.
When you think of world-class lone strikers you think of the likes of Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Radamel Falcao. All strong, physical players who can hold off defenders with ease and wait for support from the midfield or else shrug the defenders off before smashing the ball into the net. Torres is certainly not this, but in the Chelsea system he doesn’t need to be.
With the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in behind him, it is not solely down to Torres to score. It is more a collective effort from the four attacking players. Last season in the Premier League, the above three players contributed 25 goals and 28 assists. With it being Oscar and Hazard’s first season in England, it is safe to assume that this figure will dramatically increase this coming season. This is a logical assumption to make when you look at the other member of the trio – Juan Mata. The Spaniard scored just six league goals in his first season at The Bridge, a figure which he doubled in his second season.
The style Chelsea are looking to implement is very similar to that of the Spanish national team, at least on the attacking front anyway. It is a style based on fluidity and having a lot of tricky, fast and agile players who are constantly on the move. Vicente Del Bosque famously deployed a strikerless system on more than one occasion in the 2012 European Championships – a tournament which Spain were crowned champions. Having no recognised striker might look anti-attacking but it is in fact the opposite. The constant movement of the front four players causes mass confusion for opposing defences and the absence of a Drogba style striker leaves central defenders with no reference point, often confused as to where exactly they should be and who they should be watching at any particular time.
In one of Chelsea’s opening fixtures against either Aston Villa or Hull City, Fernando Torres only had one touch in the opposition box. In a normal one striker system this would be a major problem. I don’t see it as an issue for Chelsea though. Torres can often be found playing deep, with the likes of Mata, Hazard and Oscar finding themselves in more advanced positions at times. He often drifts out to either flank, dragging defenders with him and, as a result opening space for the above three players to exploit.
A ‘striker’ in this system is not a striker, rather a member of an attacking quartet.
Chelsea have added depth to this position with the arrival of Willian and Andre Schürrle to the squad. The latter contributed 11 goals and seven assists to Bayer Leverkusen’s Bundesliga campaign last season. Perhaps trying to reduce the reliance on Juan Mata who was responsible for saving Chelsea time and time again last season. The arrival of these two also allows for Chelsea to put together a serious challenge in every tournament. Rotation will be possible without weakening the starting eleven too much.
Many people, myself included were initially surprised and somewhat annoyed by the decision to loan out Romelu Lukaku again this season but when you look at it, it’s a move that makes sense. With this new style that Chelsea will be deploying, is there really room for a striker in the mould of Lukaku? Players like Torres and Eto’o seem to fit the system a lot better. It is a system that relies a lot on clever movement, intricate passing and through balls. This is a system which involves minimal crossing and little or no long, high balls up to the front man. A system based on possession. Torres is used to this kind of play from the Spain squad and Eto’o has experienced it before with Barcelona. Lukaku is still learning and another year on loan will do him the world of good. Under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, he will surely be used in a system which also encourages short, quick passing and constant movement meaning he will be ready to come back and become Chelsea’s first choice striker next season.
So, to round off this piece and to answer my initial question, do Chelsea really need a striker? I don’t think so, they have a plethora of attacking options who are more than capable of providing for one another as well as scoring goals themselves, so why limit themselves to putting all their eggs in one basket?