Is defence the best form of attack for Chelsea?

Posted by Mark Worrall

As Chelsea's erratic season continues to surprise, frustrate and disappoint the club's supporters, manager Jose Mourinho knows he must resolve the two critical issues of attack and defence if the Blues are to stand a realistic chance of winning any silverware during the present campaign.

Since his return to Stamford Bridge, Mourinho has monotonously lamented the London club's profligacy in front of goal and consistent failure to, as the Portuguese evocatively puts it, "kill" the opposition. His wagging finger of blame is regularly pointed at the three strikers at his disposal who have struggled to make an impact in what remains a very open race for the Premier League title. Between them, Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba have "enjoyed" 1,450 minutes of playing time in the league this season with just five goals and eight assists to show for their combined endeavours.

On the final day of the summer transfer window, Chelsea's "other" striker, Romelu Lukaku, was sent on loan to Everton where unsurprisingly, given his performances for West Brom in similar circumstances last season, he has been a revelation. Nine hundred and eighty-eight minutes of league football for the Toffees has seen Lukaku plunder eight goals and chip in with four assists. Week-in, week-out, the Belgium international is doing exactly what a striker should be doing -- terrifying opposition defences. He could, and many say should, be doing this for Chelsea. Mourinho rarely puts his hand up to say he's got things wrong -- and in the case of Lukaku he clearly has no intention of doing so, with prickly exchanges between master and pupil regularly being reported in the media.

Most recently, Lukaku intimated he would be interested in staying at Goodison Park for another season, particularly if he helped Everton secure Champions League football. "I miss European football a lot," he declared. "I have to work hard and see what will be the best decision for me at the end of the season." When questioned about Lukaku's comments, an irate Mourinho retorted: "Maybe there is a new rule in football where when the season finishes every player is able to decide their own future." As things stand, it's difficult to see the Chelsea manager reining in his displeasure at what is really nothing more than youthful exuberance -- and with that, Blues supporters may never get to see Lukaku fulfill his true potential at Stamford Bridge.

With the January transfer window about to open, it will be interesting to see whether Mourinho opts to address Chelsea's issues up front with a stopgap solution or with a world-class marquee signing. The latter would further reduce the chances of Lukaku returning fully to the SW6 fold.

To compound Mourinho's problems, the Blues' defence has in recent weeks developed an alarming porosity borne out of hesitancy at set pieces and slack marking, features not normally associated with the Portuguese manager's teams. Following Tuesday night's disappointing Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Premier League bottom club Sunderland, a team that two weeks previously had scored three times against Chelsea, Mourinho hinted he might opt for a more cautious approach as he bids to steady the ship ahead of a busy festive-fixture programme that includes potentially season-defining matches against the Premier League's current top two, Arsenal and Liverpool. "If I want to win 1-0, I think I can. One of the easiest things in football is to win 1-0," he said. "It's not so difficult. You structure your team from the back, you organise your team from the defensive idea, you don't give freedom to your players. The dynamic of the team is defensive, and what you do is you recover the ball and try to punish the opponent."

Such a solution would surely only be a short-term fix, with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich craving open attacking football -- and for his part Mourinho, maybe remembering the terms of his employment, swiftly added that he'd be loath to adopt a defensive style of play. "I don't want to because we are going in a direction which is the right direction in terms of the quality of football we want to play," he said. "It's quite frustrating that you have to change that and go one step back and go in another direction just because you want better results. It's something that I don't want to do."

One thing Abramovich can do is give Mourinho the funds in January to buy his way out of his current predicament -- until then, it's just possible that the Chelsea manager may elect to tighten things up. Taking into consideration the scoring prowess of Arsenal's Theo Walcott and Liverpool's Luis Suarez, players who will very soon rigorously test his defence, this might prove to be a sensible strategy. Right now, Blues supporters would take a 1-0 victory over both clubs without hesitation, and it would be astonishing to think that Mr Abramovich wouldn't either.


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