The superior threat from midfield is keeping the London side in touch with their rivals, a trend also seen during Jose Mourinho's first spell at Stamford BridgeANALYSIS
By Alex Young
“He's a young boy who likes to speak,” said Jose Mourinho after Romelu Lukaku hit out at the Chelsea manager for, according to the striker, forcing him out on loan to Everton.
But, Lukaku has every right to speak his mind after again outdoing his parent club’s strikeforce. A return of eight goals in nine Premier League games is double the tally of the four that Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba have notched between them.
Torres has long been maligned since his Premier League record £50 million transfer from Liverpool, with a return of just 16 goals in 91 top-flight games - although his recent change of approach has turned him into a more credible threat. Eto'o, meanwhile, was a panic buy by the Blues after failing to secure Wayne Rooney, and Ba is certainly not the fashionable high-profile forward the Stamford Bridge crowd are used to seeing.
|A MIDFIELD TREND UNDER MOURINHO
| TOP SCORERS 2004-05
EIDUR GUDJOHNSON/DIDIER DROGBA
JOE COLE/ARJEN ROBBEN
|TOP SCORERS 2005-06|
ARJEN ROBBEN/JOHN TERRY
|TOP SCORERS 2006-07|
After all, a return of 28 goals in 14 Premier League games does not reek of a team struggling in attack.
The modern game is evidently focused around a lone frontman or, at the very least, a central sole attacking point, and Mourinho has been no different at Chelsea - be it now or in his first three-and-a-bit-season spell.
Indeed, looking back to Mourinho’s first three full seasons at Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman were originally the regular strikers on show, with Hernan Crespo and Andriy Shevchenko joining over the next few years. But, looking closer at their respective statistics, it is evident that goals from midfield continually made for a strong basis to Chelsea's attacking output.
In 2004-05, Lampard led the way with 19 goals, followed by Drogba and Eider Gudjohnsen on 16, with Damien Duff and Joe Cole boasting 10 and nine, respectively. To expand on this, Chelsea scored 92 goals over the course of the season, 69 (or 71.76 per cent) of which came from midfielders alone.
It was a similar story in 2005-06 as Lampard (20) led the way again, with Drogba (14) and Crespo (13) in second and third, while Cole (10), and Arjen Robben and John Terry (7) capped off the top five.
The 2006-07 season marked the only one in which a striker was Chelsea’s top scorer as Drogba hit a staggering 33, while Lampard again improved his own return with 21 and Shevchenko (13), Salomon Kalou (9), Michael Ballack (8), Shaun Wright-Phillips and Michael Essien (6) followed suit.
Now, one can point out that the increased number of midfielders on the pitch compared to one or two strikers up front must play a part in the lopsided results, but Mourinho’s attacking approach is built around arrowing the attacking play towards a central forward.
Indeed, looking at the two other teams with a positive double-digit goal difference this season - Liverpool and Arsenal - Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Olivier Giroud make up three of the four highest-scoring players at the two clubs, with only the remarkable return of Aaron Ramsey creating a wedge.
With Mourinho getting roundly criticised for sending Lukaku out on loan, Chelsea are actually true to form. They are producing a similar pattern of goals from midfield seen under the Portuguese at Stamford Bridge in the past.
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Look at Southampton’s goal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday - scored after just 14 seconds - where Essien, previously an imperious midfield general under Mourinho, inexplicably cleared the ball without a second thought back towards his own goal to allow Jay Rodriguez to run through and net.
A few weeks earlier and West Brom nearly ended Mourinho’s unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge, with hesitation in defence from a set-piece and a slow reaction to movement on the edge of the area allowing Shane Long and Stephane Sessegnon to put the Baggies ahead. Loic Remy took advantage of similar reluctance to attack the ball from a dead-ball situation as Chelsea were downed 2-0 at Newcastle.
Going further back, it was another long ball into the box and header past Petr Cech which saw Everton triumph 1-0 in September. Chelsea dominated proceedings at Goodison Park and created a host of chances, but the forward threat of Eto’o failed to produce the goods - being disposed a staggering five times and registering only half of his six shots on target.
However, the defenders redeem themselves when it comes to the other end of the pitch, with Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill netting four between them in the Premier League - the same as the three first-team strikers available to Mourinho - underlined by the former and latter scoring against Southampton.
The goal threat extends further than that; just looking around the squad and you can add David Luiz and Ramires to the list, not to mention the attack-minded Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Willian and Juan Mata. Looking at Chelsea’s shots from the season, 44% have come from outside the area, with just 9% testing the goalkeeper from inside the six-yard box - underlining the more distinct threat from the midfield than those bought to score goals.
Those up front and those protecting the goalkeeper are not performing to their best - which will be of concern to Mourinho - but the strong presence in the middle is going exactly to plan. The midfielders are certainly of a title-winning ability, but will the basic form of those populated around them be Chelsea’s downfall come May?
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