Chelsea put in a limp performance in the Champions League against Juventus who, despite being wasteful in front of goal, took advantage with Fabio Quagliarella, Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Giovinco scoring in a 3-0 win Tuesday
The Champions’ League holders never looked entirely threatening, and the exclusion of £50 million striker Fernando Torres – or, in fact, any other striker – from the starting lineup made it seem like they had gone there in the hope of snatching a point.
The Blues flew to northern Italy off the back of a shock 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion where they paid the price for resting key players for the Juventus game.
In hindsight, Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo must be wondering why he bothered: their torrid time in Turin leaves huge question marks over their chances of advancing in the competition, and now, after two points from a possible twelve, they are four points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Presumably it was a response to their poor league form, the fact that they conceded four goals to Shakhtar Donetsk in their two previous European outings, and their then-strong position in the group, that the away side fielded a rather unadventurous lineup.
For the first time under Di Matteo, the Londoners started with five defenders, albeit with right-back Cesar Azpilicueta often positioning himself way beyond the halfway line.
Instead of using a recognised striker, he opted for the triumvirate of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata – all attacking midfielders by trade.
When allowed space behind the Juventus midfield, the young trio did look dangerous, but they were often crowded out in the final third.
It’s not really surprising: only Bayern Munich concede fewer goals per game than Juventus over the English, French, German, Spanish and Italian leagues. This was a game where, if the Blues wanted to make a real effort to challenge the Old Lady’s mean defence, a centre forward was vital.
It makes you wonder if Di Matteo rates his options up front and, if not, Chelsea were quite foolish not to bolster their side with a striker in the summer.
The big-money signing of Torres hasn’t worked. Every single time he scores, there are hopeful commentators around the world wondering if he will now “turn good.” Let’s face it: it’s not going to happen. We’ve been waiting for him to take his Liverpool form to Chelsea for nearly two years now.
England international Daniel Sturridge, who missed the game through injury, is an exciting player, but at 23 is still far from the finished article. New boy Victor Moses can be used as a striker, but is more commonly used as a winger, and is two years younger than Sturridge.
Tuesday night’s front-line of Hazard, Oscar and Mata will score goals – they’re supremely talented players – but they are most bewildering behind the front man and drifting around the flanks. They’re not strikers.
Despite being different players in many ways, they are Frank Lampard’s replacements. Lampard has been instrumental at Chelsea for over ten years, averaging 0.3 assists per start between 2003-2010. However, with his physical capabilities dwindling over the two seasons preceding this one, that stat has halved to 0.15.
Hazard, Mata and Oscar all offer startling creativity and are more than capable of surpassing this assist average. The formation is narrower, so there’s greater emphasis on playing it through the middle. For Di Matteo’s new system they needed two or three Lampards, and that’s why Oscar and Hazard joined Mata over the summer.
The backbone of Chelsea’s successful attack over the past decade, however, has been Lampard, who was recently voted their second greatest ever player in the club’s official magazine, and Didier Drogba. The latter, who left for the riches of the Chinese Super League in the summer, was never replaced.
Chelsea, if they are to be sure to mount a challenge for Manchester City’s Premier League title, may have to sign a striker in January. But for now in the Champions League, they have to beat Nordsjaelland and hope Juventus come away with nothing against Shakhtar Donetsk. A point or more for the Italian side, and Chelsea are out.