The 22-year-old found the net once again to earn his side a point at Tottenham on Thursday evening, but a lack of striking support could undermine hopes of winning the league
By Liam Twomey at White Hart Lane
When Andre Villas-Boas decided to accept Roman Abramovich’s lucrative offer to become Chelsea manager last June, having the chance to work with such illustrious names as Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka may well have ranked high on his list of reasons.
Daniel Sturridge, having just returned from a highly promising loan spell at Bolton, probably registered comparatively low, if at all, on the Portuguese’s radar.
Six months on, however, the big talent has upstaged the big reputations to become one of the cornerstones of the Chelsea revolution.
Few revolutions happen overnight, and none avoid casualties. Anelka and defender Alex are already looking forward to finding pastures new in January, and more heads could roll in the coming days and weeks.
On the pitch, too, it is clear Chelsea are a work in progress. Defensively Villas-Boas’ tactics have left the side uncharacteristically vulnerable, while going forward they exhilarate and exasperate in equal measure.
The fluid movement and direct passing moves the new boss wants to see are already taking shape, but profligate finishing undermines much of the artistry on show.
On his shoulders | Sturridge's goal have carried Chelsea in the league this season
Against Tottenham, Chelsea had 22 shots on goal, only seven of which tested Brad Friedel. Among the ones that didn’t were a Drogba strike from the edge of the six-yard box which crashed off the post, and a free header from Ramires which flew desperately wide.
As Villas-Boas rightly pointed out afterwards, a point away from home against a Spurs side who produced their fair share of dangerous opportunities and harbour dreams of title glory themselves is far from a disaster.
But with Manchester City now enjoying a massive 11 point lead over the west Londoners, it’s hardly ideal.
Nor is White Hart Lane the only witness to the Blues’ carelessness in the final third. November’s 2-1 league defeat to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge came only after the wasteful hosts had managed to direct 13 of their 18 efforts at goal off target.
| STURRIDGE'S LEAGUE STREAK
|20/11 vs Liverpool (H)
26/11 vs Wolves (H)
03/12 vs Newcastle (A)
12/12 vs Manchester City (H)
17/12 vs Wigan Athletic (A)
22/12 vs Tottenham (A)
The previous month, QPR were largely dominated at home by a Chelsea side forced to play with nine men for over half the match, yet still found themselves able to emerge with a famous scalp.
Finally there was the madcap encounter at Old Trafford back in September, where Villas-Boas’ men were seen off by a swashbuckling Manchester United side 3-1 despite registering almost double the amount of shots as the hosts.
Almost all of Chelsea’s strikers are culpable for the team’s current malaise in front of goal.
Drogba has occasionally looked too old to shoulder the burden. Romelu Lukaku looks too young. Torres has too often looked a shadow of the player Chelsea paid £50 million to acquire last January.
For Juan Mata and Ramires, a relative lack of goals has been the only blot on an otherwise flawless campaign so far, while the likes of Anelka, Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda have sparkled all too briefly.
But where others have flickered, Sturridge has shone. The 22-year-old has found the net 17 times in the Premier League in 2011 – a tally only bettered by Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Demba Ba – with Thursday evening's equaliser his ninth in the current campaign.
In doing so, he has played a key role in reviving Chelsea’s season and easing the pressure on Villas-Boas. But he has also undeniably papered over the cracks at Stamford Bridge.
Sturridge has scored or assisted a goal in each of the Blues’ last six Premier League games. That the statistics highlight the young striker’s exceptional talent is beyond question, but the fact remains that the team’s implicit reliance on him indicates the weakness of the collective as much as the strength of the individual.
Villas-Boas is probably filled with gratitude, delight and considerable surprise at the sheer extent of Sturridge’s contribution so far.
But the thought that will surely be troubling the young Portuguese tactician this Christmas is the knowledge that if his star man should be waylaid by a loss of form, confidence or fitness, there is at present in the Chelsea squad no one capable of picking up the slack.
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