No striker and a weak mentality - what Chelsea are missing to challenge for the Premier League

The Blues are not among the contenders to win the league and a recent home defeat to Leicester has cast eyes on what is wrong at the club

Chelsea are 11 points away from Premier League leaders Liverpool and are staring down the reality that they are not title contenders this season.

Maurizio Sarri has sent warnings that his side 'are a step behind' both Liverpool and Manchester City throughout the course of the season, even when his side racked up an impressive 18 game unbeaten streak in all competitions.

A strong 'big six' in England's top flight means a top-four finish is a battle, and Chelsea find themselves just outside the top tier of challengers alongside Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Some saw Sarri's comments as pessimism at the time but the recent run has exposed shortcomings at Stamford Bridge that the Italian was evidently aware of – the same ones countryman Antonio Conte complained about before him.

Strange mentality

On any given day, Chelsea can beat anyone. Both Manchester City and Liverpool have found that out already this season, but the real challenge is to grind it out week after week.

That's where Chelsea are failing, they are unable to blow teams away like Man City, whereas Liverpool's title charge has been characterised by a dogged mentality.

Even the best teams have bad days but Chelsea seem to fade for large periods of games in which they had previously been doing well. In November, the issue for Sarri was starting games slowly but now it's that Chelsea react poorly to hardship, most blatantly when the opposition scores.

Leicester City earned their first win at Stamford Bridge for more than 18 years with a 1-0 win on Saturday and they deserved it. A strong Claude Puel game plan still needed resilience as Chelsea dominated possession and created more chances.

However, Jamie Vardy's second half strike saw Chelsea collapse and Sarri seemed baffled about his team's lack of ability to mount a response.

"I think we played very well for 55 minutes, we played very good football," said the Italian. "After the goal the reaction was, for me, a strange reaction, not in the right direction, not as a team but as 11 different players. It was very strange.

Maurizio Sarri quote GFX

"I think we could have done better. We only had to continue to play like we did in the first part of the match. There was time to score but we reacted as a team that was shocked. I cannot understand our reaction."

There are many games that you could look to in highlighting examples of poor mentality from Chelsea and it doesn't matter if they won, lost or drew. Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Wolves, Tottenham and Leicester City... the examples are numerous of this 'strange mentality' that plagues Chelsea's side and that is costing them points.

A possible solution would be the emergence of leaders of the ilk of those long gone at Chelsea. The Blues' most feared team featured the likes of John Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, whose mental toughness complimented their immense footballing talent.

There's also a need for Chelsea to kill off games more ruthlessly when they are on top.

Lack of reliable striker

Eden Hazard has emerged as Chelsea's leading striker, operating as a false 9, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud only having six league goals so far between them.

Chelsea have switched formations to play with eight-goal Hazard up front, but Leicester opted to use a deep block and give him, Pedro and Willian little space to weave their magic.

Giroud is hard-working and a good influence for the team but, as proved at the World Cup, he needs others to take the role of goal scorer.

Morata was meant to be the 20-, potentially 30-goal-a-season man but he has not shown himself robust enough to cope with the pressure of being under the spotlight. At Juventus and Real Madrid, the talent of his team-mates offered him some hiding space, but Chelsea invested £58 million plus add-ons in his potential to rise from the shadows and become a main man.

So far it has been not so good for the 26-year-old since his move to west London. It has been a run of injuries, complaints, yellow cards and excuses rather than goals. Spain dropped Morata from their World Cup squad and Sarri left him out after switching to a false 9 against Man City.

Alvaro Morata Chelsea 2018-19

It is a sad indictment for a player who is clearly so talented. Patience is limited in football though and this might be an area where Chelsea look to the transfer market for a solution.

Chelsea explored the possibility of signing Gonzalo Higuain in the last transfer window and are rumoured to be interested in him again. The false 9 may also be here to stay, but that might lead to Sarri looking for more clinical small forwards - with a host of names having been linked - including the likes of Christian Pulisic, Nabil Fekir and Ousmane Dembele.

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Some people think Sarri also needs a 'Plan B' but the 59-year-old was hired on the knowledge that he doesn't deviate from his tactical plan. There's also been unrest among his substitutes at Chelsea but this is just another example of history repeating itself after his spell at Napoli.

Chelsea's other concern is integrating their world-class youth players into their first team, but to do so they need a manager to stick around for a long time. They will hope that man is Sarri, so fixing the striker and mentality issues would be the best places to start, with bigger issues to be resolved along the way.

Achieving great things takes time for most, just ask Pep Guardiola at Man City.