Why Chelsea need a striker & midfielder in January

The Blues' misfiring frontline have notched just seven league goals this season, underlining the need for more firepower, while Xabi Alonso could be the perfect partner for Ramires
By Ewan Roberts

This January, most of the sides fighting for the Premier League title will go into the winter transfer window looking to make only minor tweaks to already cohesive teams - but not Chelsea.

While other clubs have minor deficiencies, the Blues need major surgery on an imbalanced squad and no side possesses an Achilles heel quite so great as the west Londoners' absentee strikeforce.

Samuel Eto'o, a last-minute panic buy in the summer, Fernando Torres, a player doomed to remain plagued by a record transfer fee he has no hope of ever repaying, and Demba Ba, a cut-price stop-gap. These three, combined, have netted just seven league goals this season – just over a third as many as Luis Suarez – and none have earned the faith or support of increasingly beleaguered manager Jose Mourinho.

“The strikers try the best they can so I don't know what to do,” bemoaned the downbeat Portuguese. “It is one thing to improve a player who is 20-years-old, which you can. If you can tell me, can I improve Eden Hazard? Yes, I can. Can I improve a player who is 30-years-old? How?

“If we had eight, 10, 12 goals [from the strikers] we would be top of the league. That's a reality, but my strikers give everything and the team works hard. To criticise does not help me. What do I win by criticising my players? I win nothing.”


3 35.7% 9.3 13

3 43.3% 10 8

1 41.6% 12 3

19 61.4% 3 29

9 43.4% 5.8 40
Whether Mourinho criticises his strikers or not, the likelihood is he will win nothing without a new forward. In the Premier League era, the title-winning side's strikeforce has, on average, scored 43.2 goals and contributed to 54.6 per cent of the team's total goals. Since Mourinho last won the Premier League that figure is even higher, with title-winning sides' strikers averaging 50.2 league goals, while the club who has topped the table come May has been able to call upon the division's top scorer in four of the last six seasons.

Chelsea's strikers, though, are on course to score a modest 13.3 league goals this season, and have netted just 18.42% of the side's total goals. It is a weakness that has the potential to derail their title charge.

When they have scored, it has often been thanks to opposition errors – Matija Nastasic's ill-judged back-pass to let Torres in against Manchester City, or Liam Ridgewell dallying on the ball to allow Eto'o's tackle-cum-shot find the bottom corner. They have scored too infrequently away from home, not notching an away goal throughout 2013, while the last time a Chelsea striker netted an away goal against a top-eight side was in October 2012 – and it was a player, Daniel Sturridge, who is no longer at the club.

Despite Mourinho's protestations to the contrary, Chelsea are very much in the market for a frontman. They had several bids for Wayne Rooney rejected by Manchester United during the summer, are monitoring the situation of AC Milan's Mario Balotelli and must surely be aware of Diego Costa's €42 million release clause – though whether they could lure him away from Atletico Madrid is another matter.

All would be a far better fit for a Chelsea attack that is missing a rather large piece of the puzzle. So often the club's current trio of strikers have been on the periphery of matches, with Torres the most involved with a measly 16.1 passes per game. Yet Costa, more than just a goalscoring battering ram, has managed 23.2 passes per game (in addition to his 19 goals), while Rooney tops the lot with 46.9.

Chelsea's strikers are less clinical too, boasting a far poorer shooting accuracy – Torres' 35.7% looks positively dreadful compared to Costa's 61.4% - and requiring more shots on target per goal scored.


51.3 4.5 1.2 65.1%

34.6 3 0.4 63.7%

42.8 2.7 1.3 61.2%

68 5.5 1.9 73.1%
A misfiring frontline is not Chelsea's only problem, though, with the midfield in desperate need of reinforcement. The Stamford Bridge outfit average only the ninth most possession in the Premier League, and have just the seventh best pass success in the division. While Ramires, a blend of energy and power, fits the dynamic mould of player Mourinho requires as one of the holding midfielders in his preferred 4-2-3-1, John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard do not.

The Brazilian is the side's best passing midfielder, averaging 51.3 successful passes per game (a figure dwarfed by the league's most prolific passer, Yaya Toure, who has made 75.1 passes per game), while he has more tackles than the other two combined. He is the quickest distributor, the most athletic and the best on transition, but he needs a partner in crime.

That could be Xabi Alonso, a rare ally for Mourinho at the Santiago Bernabeu and a player who could be available with his current contract at Real Madrid set to expire at the end of the season. The Spaniard knows Mourinho's methods and playing style, offloading the ball to the attackers ahead of him at much slicker pace and bringing a far greater degree of possession control.

Alonso averaged 78 completed passes per game in the 2010/11 campaign, and 68 throughout his three seasons under Mourinho, while he passes forward more frequently too (73.1% of the time). He also created 189 chances under Mourinho.

Unlike, say, Mikel, who sits back in front of the defence and reacts to danger, Alonso is a front-foot, proactive player. He was wrongly seen as the luxury player in his partnership with Sami Khedira, the German usually adjudged to provide the work rate and bite in midfield, but Alonso was Madrid's top tackler under Mourinho and, in three seasons, recovered possession (from tackles/interceptions) on 536 occasions (5.5 per game compared to Khedira's 3.3).

Chelsea's leaky back-line is also an issue, with Mourinho joking that the training-ground dummies could score against his side, but not one that requires immediate attention. When the side need to shut up shop, they can (conceding just two goals in matches against Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Liverpool), and a new midfielder would bring more solidity and control to a side that can look a little open.

A new striker, likewise, would help kill off sides and alter the mentality of a team that has been forced to over-commit in a bid to compensate for a toothless strikeforce. If Mourinho does not bring in a new forward, though, he could always consider fielding one of the training dummies up front as a last resort instead.

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