With the capture in summer 2012 of Eden Hazard and Oscar, Chelsea’s attacking talents seemed to be the strongest in the Premier League, barring only perhaps the two Manchester clubs. Even so, the exciting nature of Chelsea’s ‘Three Amigos’, with their clever interplay, creativity and mercurial inventiveness, seemed somewhat more tantalising than United’s use of Michael Carrick’s short passing – forward as well as back – and James Milner’s steady, workmanlike efforts on either wing or in the centre for City. With a final finish of 3rd and the capture of the UEFA Europa League, the future seemed bright for Chelsea. The relative young ages of their most potent attacking threats was another reason for Chelsea fans to look forward to the next season with excitement – 25-year-old Juan Mata, 22-year-old Eden Hazard and Oscar, aged 22, had years in which to mature and develop. Even Fernando Torres, with his 22 goals showing tantalising signs of a return to his old self, is still the right side of 30.
And then came the return of Jose Mourinho, the self-styled ‘Happy One’, and the capture of forward Andre Schurrle from Bayer Leverkusen for £18 million, the 22-year-old seemingly another investment made by the club in preparation for another season of challenging for silverware. Schurrle is a more dynamic player than either Mata or Oscar, and possibly edging out Hazard as well, with a direct running style almost reminiscent of Thierry Henry in his pomp. Gliding along the touchline, with the ball glued to his feet, before cutting in, shifting up a gear and unleashing a shot at goal, the German is a player who offers another dimension to Chelsea’s play. Intricate passing movements and close control are all well and good, but sometimes a more direct route is required.
Whilst I’m not advocating the use of Route One football, Schurrle offers Chelsea genuine width, an invaluable contribution to any team. Whilst Manchester City’s capture of Jesus Navas in the summer was heralded as a tactical masterstroke, one that could give City a more unpredictable tactical flexibility and an attacking outlet, with the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure sometimes stifled as the City team tried in vain at times to play the ball through the middle, the same could well apply to Chelsea and the new boy Schurrle.
With all three of their attacking midfielders enjoying the role of trequarista, the classic attacking number 10 role beloved of players like Ronaldinho, Juan Roman Riquelme and perhaps even Paul Scholes, the ball was sometimes funnelled through the middle for Chelsea last season. But with Schurrle, Chelsea’s team has another option. Rather than rely on the close control and twinkling feet of Oscar, Mourinho’s anointed Playermaker-Of-Choice, the Chelsea team has width now. Look at their first goal against – ironically – Manchester City, with Torres taking on the City defence out wide before putting a devilish cross into the box for Schurrle to put away. Eden Hazard has the potential to be a lethal winger, Schurrle a proven performer – this Chelsea team has enough tactical possibilities to make an FM player like me fall to their knees and weep.
And let’s not even get started on Marco van Ginkel. With the 35-year-old Lampard reduced to a bit-part role at the club, Vitesse’s 20-year-old midfielder was bought for around £8million, a fee that could well be a steal. When van Ginkel signed with Chelsea, he talked to the club’s official website, describing himself as “a box-to-box player” who “covers a lot of metres and can score a goal.” And whilst that’s not to say he can catch Lampard – who’s Chelsea’s leading goalscorer, don’t forget – that sounds like the perfect replacement for the England man, and yet another actor who could have a big part to play in the epic tragi-comedy being acted out at Stamford Bridge every other weekend.