Jose Mourinho is now the bookies favourite to become the next Chelsea manager and it seems to be emerging that Mourinho wants to return to ‘his Chelsea’ too. Mourinho is a master of building teams to be tactically robust and relies on the solidity of the team as a way of defending. When Mourinho first took the Chelsea job back in 2004, he arrived with a number of strict pre-set plans: a squad of 23 players and a complete forward who can play as a clinical finisher, a target man and a creator of change; that man was Didier Drogba, Mourinho’s most important signing back in 2004.
This article will analyse Didier Drogba’s role at Chelsea as a complete forward – a striker who can hold on to the ball, finish, create opportunities for others, win the ball and act as the focal point of Mourinho’s front three when in attack but have the tenacity to damage the opposition in scenarios of isolation.
Mourinho will be looking for his “special one” of 2013/14 to perform at the levels of Didier Drogba, but who could be worth the consideration? The article will analyse Torres, Demba Ba, Lukaku and Aston Villa’s Benteke as possible players to fill the position formerly conquered by Chelsea’s Ivorian number 11.
Tactical Role One: The Clinical Striker
Didier Drogba averaged just 37.75% shot accuracy in his last four years at Chelsea, which on paper isn’t as good as the other players considered in this article. However, Drogba took an average of 110 shots per season and this means that 42 shots on target per season and from those 42 shots Drogba scored an average of 12.5 goals per season. The real statistic to take away from all these ‘goal scoring’ statistics is that Drogba scored 30% of all shots on target, that’s a goal every 3 shots on target. The reality is that ‘shot accuracy’ does in fact, tell us very little – Drogba’s true ability as a clinical finisher was that he was able to find positions to take shots more often than others tend to as a clinical forward and if the shot was on target, there is an exceptionally high chance that the shot will lead to a goal being scored.
Romelu Lukaku, currently on loan at counter-attacking West Brom, is fortunate enough to not only be performing at a level that suggests he may be the successor, but to be doing so at a club that plays with a similar style of football that Mourinho could employ on his return. There is no doubt that the current WBA manager, Steve Clarke, was heavily influenced by Mourinho as his assistant manager back in 2004 (-2007). The powerful Belgian, who is often compared to Drogba due to his similar playing characteristics, has a higher shot accuracy than Didier Drogba’s four year average and has taken 77 shots in total so far this season. In short, Lukaku finds a 29% shot on target to goal percentage (just 1% lower than Drogba’s) and as a comparable clinical finisher, Lukaku still has room to grow into a forward who can find a shooting opportunity where many cannot.
Demba Ba and Fernando Torres both possess the ability to find the target often (71% and 60% respectively) but neither can boast the same ability to strike fear into the opposition’s goalkeeper every time a shot comes his way (with only 14% and 20.5% shots on target to goals percentages). Therefore, as a clinical finisher, it is arguable that neither have found form that could suggest they could be Mourinho’s front man. It is however, questionable to arrive at such conclusions for Demba Ba since he only joined Chelsea in the January transfer window.
For the purposes of comparison, I have selected EPL-season debutant Christian Benteke (also of Belgium and plays within a counter-attacking team) to argue that there are players currently playing in the Premier League who could make the step up to fulfil such a role in a top club. Before analysing the statistics, I was under the impression that Benteke was the latest victim of over-hyping new talents who play well in a team that has had a below-average season. However, the statistics suggest otherwise and have prompted me to re-analyse the ability of Benteke as a complete forward. Benteke has taken 92 shots so far this season and scored from 27% of all shots on target; but where Benteke really does excel, is in his ability to score from clear-cut opportunities (scoring 10 out of 18 – including the four vs. one opportunity from this weekend).
There is suggestion from these statistics that both Lukaku and Benteke are perhaps better selections compared to the current Chelsea forwards Demba Ba and Fernando Torres. However as I have suggested at the beginning of this article, the Drogba-role was never just about scoring goals. So let’s move on and take a look at the complete forward in terms of being a creator of change and a player who cannot be easily dispossessed.
Tactical Role Two: The Creator of Change
Drogba, as expected, out scores the other strikers as a player who can find a way of using his ability to take more touches to find goal scoring opportunities (see number of shots per season) and none of the other forwards compete with Drogba (in terms of how much touches of the ball he makes per game). This isn’t just a statistic that suggests Chelsea relied on Drogba more frequently but also a suggestion that Drogba was able to find positions to receive the ball more often and more successfully than the others considered.
When analysing these strikers in terms of their ability to create opportunities for others we can see a strong comparison with Benteke and Drogba and their ability to help induce opportunities for their team mates to score. While Benteke may not possess a similar dribbling level to Torres, Lukaku and Drogba and is far easier to dispossess when in possession we cannot underplay how important it is for a complete striker to both score goals and create opportunities for others.
Tactical Role Three: The Target Man
It is notable that while Chelsea were often praised for their ability to counter attack and Drogba was celebrated for his ability in the air – Chelsea were never a team that simply lofted the ball in the air towards the front man (which the stats suggest Villa do). Instead, Drogba’s most dangerous trait was his ability to retain the ball when the ball is played long into feet (or other parts of his body other than the head). While Drogba’s assist or goal rates fluctuated from season to season, it appears to be consistent that Drogba would win over 50% of his aerial duels and retain around 35% of all other ground duels (which were over 300 in total during the 09/10 and 10/11 seasons). Demba Ba is increasingly being outlined as a player who cannot fulfil Drogba’s front man role as he is used as a target man on the ground far less than the other players listed.
Lukaku may not have Benteke’s Aerial Duels Win percentage, but on the ground it appears that the time Lukaku spent as Drogba’s understudy have influenced the big WBA loanee significantly (based on how often Benteke loses possession of the ball and/or is dispossessed and Lukaku’s ability to dribble). It appears that from all the statistical analysis Benteke is a strong contender for the “new Drogba” award but I would argue that this overlooks Lukaku’s more rounded game and therefore leading to the conclusion that perhaps Lukaku is better suited to an all-round complete forward role in Mourinho’s Chelsea. That being said, Benteke has had one fantastic season by anyone’s standards and if he continues to perform at this level, expect to see Benteke leading the line of a Champion League counter-attacking team in the near future.
If Mourinho returns this summer, there are likely to be immediate changes: Lampard will be rewarded his new contract and the search for a midfield battler (Essien, Cambiasso, Khedira – all have been used by Mourinho in the past) will begin. It appears that Chelsea’s current squad is more than good enough to compete for the top two positions in the English Premier League; they just lack consistency and direction, and I can’t think of a better manager in world football to tackle each of the issues facing Chelsea today. This article, however, has arrived at the conclusion that perhaps the £18 million Antwerp born Belgian is beginning to claim the title of “The New Drogba” and it is possible that Mourinho puts his faith in such a young striker with the Drogba-role in mind.
*statistics correct as of 8th of April 2013
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