Chelsea's misfiring strikers: Can they come good?

None of Chelsea's strikers have scored in the Premier League so far this season. Brendon Netto discusses how the side's striking woes began and if it can be rectified.
 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | England
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Didier Drogba scored a total of 37 goals for Chelsea in the 2009-10 season. He was ably supported by his fellow attackers, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda who chipped in with 15, 12 and 15 goals respectively while the prolific Frank Lampard recorded 27 from midfield. With plenty of goal-scoring prowess, Carlo Ancelotti’s side romped to the Premier League title and lifted the FA Cup as well.

The following season however, saw their colossal Ivorian center-forward begin to slip into decline as he approached his 33rd birthday. His strike-partner Anelka, only a year younger, also began to fade and having endured a disastrous two-month period in the league where they picked up just 10 points from a possible 33, Roman Abramovich decided to splurge on a new superstar in January. But who knew that a £50 million world-class center-forward wasn’t the answer?

Chelsea’s striking woes began when Abramovich yanked out his cheque book and signed off on an absurd transfer fee for the then Liverpool striker, Fernando Torres. The Spaniard was meant to give the team a lift through his goals but his barren run held them back instead as Ancelotti was caught between fielding their record signing and reverting to the tried and tested options in Drogba and Anelka.

Meanwhile, Torres’ arrival pushed a useful attacking option in Kalou further down the pecking order while stunting the development of a budding star in Daniel Sturridge. Although much of Chelsea’s problems up front can be attributed to the gamble they took on the Spanish international, Torres is the only one of their strikers to get on the score sheet in the current campaign.

Before you dwell on the irony of the situation however, consider that he’s only bagged 3 goals in 9 appearances of which two were scored against Swindon Town and Steaua Bucuresti, not the most glamorous of oppositions. So in Chelsea’s 11 games this season, they’ve scored 21 goals but only 3 came from their strike-force.

Fortunately, the midfielders have chipped in so far as Jose Mourinho’s preferred ‘number 10’ Oscar leads the charge with 4 strikes. However, if the defeats to FC Basel and Everton, amidst other unconvincing results, didn’t have the alarm bells ringing, perhaps John Obi Mikel’s goal did. The Nigerian scored his first ever Premier League goal for the club since joining in 2006 in a 2-0 win over Fulham while Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba are yet to open their accounts in the league.

It’s been an underwhelming return to Stamford Bridge for Mourinho so far this season but it hasn’t been catastrophic either. Placed just 2 points behind Arsenal and Liverpool at the top of the league table, the Blues can be relatively pleased. The only worry is that sooner or later a misfiring strike-force is bound to catch up to you and it’s a problem that can’t be ignored over the course of a season.

In fact, it should be noted that all six of their wins this season have come against lesser teams in Hull City, Aston Villa, Norwich City, Fulham, Swindon and Bucuresti. Meanwhile, they could only draw against Manchester United and Tottenham, were beaten by Everton and even defeated by Basel, scoring just twice in those 4 encounters. That suggests that they may continue to struggle against more formidable sides if their strikers keep shooting blanks.

The delay in offering Lampard a contract extension last season caused an uproar and rightly so. Throughout their issues up front over the previous two of seasons, the midfield veteran has soldiered on, scoring 33 goals.

His contribution has been invaluable at a time when the team struggled without a 25-goal a season striker. However, Lampard’s influence is beginning to wane and that’s a prime concern for Chelsea not only because of their lack of regular goal-scorers but also because of their thin numbers in central midfield.

Fortunately, Oscar has taken more responsibility this season, reacting to Mourinho’s faith in him while Ramires is proving to be indispensable in midfield and a potentially rich source of goals. However, it’s too early to judge their consistency and the strikers will eventually have to step up to the plate.

Despite Gareth Bale’s sensational form for Tottenham last season which yielded 21 league goals from midfield, the Welshman was afforded little support in the goal-scoring department with Jermaine Defoe managing just 11 goals from 34 appearances. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Adebayor could only score 5 times and the lack of firepower from Spurs’ strikers may have been the difference as they narrowly missed out on a Champions League spot.

For that reason, Chelsea could find themselves falling off the pace if this striking issue isn’t rectified. Loaning out Romelu Lukaku has been deemed a huge mistake following his stunning form for Everton and Belgium and it’s hard to suggest otherwise. Mourinho will claim that the striker’s development is key and hence the loan deal was the right move but few will agree with him, not that he’d be fazed by that.

Chelsea reportedly refused to loan Ba to Arsenal as they were worried about feeding the needs of a direct rival but in shipping out Lukaku to Everton for the length of the season, you wonder whether they’ve ended up starving themselves to an equal effect.

Mourinho instead chose to sign one of his former players in Eto’o, a classy striker no doubt but one that’s been rusting away in a lesser league for too long. The former Barcelona star has impressed with fleeting moments of neat touches and good movement but is far from rediscovering his cutting-edge. If however, he does manage to regain a semblance of his best form, he could well justify Mourinho’s gamble on him.

Meanwhile, fans finally spotted the Torres of old in the second-half at White Hart Lane a few weeks ago. Whatever Mourinho said to him during the break, it seemed to have worked because he displayed a level of tenacity few thought he was still capable of. Granted, he was ultimately sent off but if he puts in more performances like that going forward, Chelsea could have the real deal on their hands.

It’s still early in the season and there are one or two signs of things coming good for Chelsea’s three strikers but they may want to step up sooner rather than later, lest the lack of regular goal-scorers damages the team’s chances this season to a point where it can’t be recovered.

Can Chelsea's strikers come good or do they need to sign someone else? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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