This week’s column will discuss the issue surrounding Chelsea’s preferred XI and in doing so will focus on Eden Hazard and David Luiz. Could the talent at Jose Mourinho’s disposal be causing more harm than good?
Chelsea endured a week of fantastic results, rising to second on the domestic league after a late victory over Manchester City and a Capital One Cup victory over Arsenal, only to be disappointed by a dismal and uncharacteristically lacklustre display at St James’ Park last Saturday. The frustration was overcome by a convincing 3-0 victory in the Champions League clash on Wednesday. The question on my mind is; why is Chelsea performing inconsistently with the talent at their disposal and a very experienced manager?
Jose Mourinho has enjoyed a rocky start to his return to Stamford Bridge. While he is blessed with a talent young squad, he is also burdened with the problem of team selection and finding the right balance. The team’s most abundant area of talent is the three that play behind the striker in Chelsea’s four-two-three-one formation. Last season Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard were untouchable, but Chelsea decided to strengthen the options by recalling Kevin De Bruyne and buying Andre Schurrle and Willian in the summer transfer market. Mata, Oscar and Hazard are the “best” of the six options, however when playing together have lacked the efficiency often seen when Schurrle or Willian are introduced. While the swift interplay by Mata, Oscar and Hazard is intriguing and exciting it is not necessarily effective. This can be noted in the match against Newcastle, where Chelsea despite having an overwhelming share of the possession, did not deliver in attack. The long, slow, build-up play consisted of many waste opportunities and had our striker starved for service for what seemed the entire first-half. Mourinho pointed out that there was too much passing across the three behind the striker and not many balls forward. When the likes of Schurrle or Willian are introduced, Chelsea enjoys a more direct style of play with more crosses into the box. Should Mourinho therefore continue to sacrifice Mata, Oscar or Hazard to improve the tempo of the match and create more goal scoring chances? How very peculiar when they are considered our most creative players. A tough decision to be made my Mourinho, however the Portuguese has had no problem before with dropping “star players” who underperform.
Hazard, David Luiz, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard were some of the players dropped after their unconvincing displays against Newcastle. Luiz, Cole and Lampard were afforded a spot on the bench, while Hazard was unable to secure a spot in the match day squad against Schalke and enjoyed the match from the stands. Hazard is undoubtedly one of the most gifted young players of the moment, which has rightfully earned him a spot on the 23 man shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d‘or. How does a player with that quality not manage to secure a spot on the field, let alone the bench? Hazard has been inconsistent, with his glimpses of brilliance often accompanied by spells of invisibility. A player of such calibre should be taunting defenders every minute he is on the pitch and creating and scoring even more goals, however this level of consistency is yet to be found by the Belgian this season. A short exile to the stands may be just what Hazard needed to ignite his desire and hunger to play. Whether he earns a spot on the pitch against West Brom this weekend and his subsequent performance will be evident as to whether the Portuguese manager has gotten through to Chelsea’s greatest talent.
That brings us to the next Chelsea conundrum, David Luiz. The young Brazilian has been the subject of much debate since his move to Chelsea from Benfica. Many pundits believe Luiz is a liability at centre-back and possesses a greater strength as a defensive midfielder, a position he explored under Rafael Benitez on occasion. Luiz is potentially one of the greatest centre-back prospects as is evident by the attention he has drawn from the likes of La Liga dominating Barcelona. When selected to start alongside Terry or Cahill, Luiz offers pace in the defensive line, but his main strength is his ability on the ball. Luiz has fantastic ability on the ball, his delivery with both feet is excellent and his vision to spot a gap or run of one of the forwards is incredible. Luiz can turn a defence into attack by one defence-splitting pass. Luiz has also showed his technical abilities through his unique free-kicks, leaving nets shattered from a far distance out. But his strengths are often overwhelmed by his blatant mistakes resulting from what can only be a lack of concentration or lack of experience. Jose Mourinho would surely welcome the Brazilian in his starting XI if he could iron out his errors and become a more consistent player.
One positive for Chelsea is that all three strikers are finding their feet and gaining confidence with Fernando Torres leading the pack with five goals, Samuel Eto’o with three goals and Demba Ba having scored his first for the Blues this season and his first ever Champions League goal against Schalke on Wednesday. As has been the case of Torres and his Chelsea career, after scoring a late “belief” winner against Manchester City, the Spaniard has now been ruled out for two-to-three weeks with a muscular injury. As disappointing as it is, with Torres having looked the sharpest and most driven than ever before in a Blue shirt, this will provide Eto’o and Ba with an opportunity to reap some goals and confidence.
With only one Premier League match remaining ahead of the international break, Chelsea will be hoping to return to winning ways and potentially narrow the gap between themselves and log-leaders Arsenal, on Saturday. COME ON YOU BLUES!