Chelsea’s False Nine
Seven Premier League games, and not a goal from a striker – is this the flaw that will see Jose Mourinho's Chelsea go trophy-less this season?
October 7th, 2013
Mourinho hinted post-match at Norwich that he didn’t consider it an issue. He spoke of how the early crosses, so useful for a steam train like Didier Drogba, were of little use to his new Chelsea.
So he’s stopped them. Watch – it doesn’t happen any more.
Later balls in are clearly designed to catch Oscar, who can’t stop scoring at the moment. A hard-working box-to-box man, driving the midfield, who likes to arrive late at the scene and poach a goal from 25 yards.
Remind you of anyone?
But they are also meant to catch Eden Hazard, Willian, Juan Mata; the heads of Gary Cahill or John Terry; and even Frank Lampard himself.
Demba Ba, particularly in his first half hour at Norwich, showed the new model for a Chelsea striker: working on the edge, and inside, the box – creating space, drawing the man, making the pass.
For half an hour or more he played havoc with the Canaries defence, until his rollercoaster performance dipped with his energy levels.
Fernando Torres was the same in a mostly barnstorming performance at Tottenham: where, prior to a red card, he was the thorn in Spurs’ side – everything but the goal.
Find a man who can do the same for another 60 minutes, perhaps a Cameroonian man once he acclimatises, and the plan may be complete.
Is it now making sense why the strikers wear the numbers 9, 19, 29? Interchangeable according to the situation and opposition: versions 0.9, 1.9, 2.9.
Mourinho was also clear at Norwich about why Chelsea can’t be just-like-Barca – the players aren’t there.
But what he didn’t say, and what loomed like a pachyderm in the press-room, was that so many have misunderstood the concept of the ‘False Nine’.
People saw the Blues’ team sheet for Old Trafford earlier this season, and decreed it a clear example of this: Andre Schurrle the only one even claiming to have striking credentials.
But the point of the play is not that the nine is necessarily absent; but that there is someone dressed up to his nines – playing the role, bothering the back four, drawing the man.
Hiding in plain sight is a dastardly, disarming, but ultimately effective tactic: it takes an unassuming opposition and breaches their defence by stealth.
Mourinho’s Chelsea right now do it doubly: by actively deploying a striker that is set up to direct the man and not the ball; and by verbally deploying the interviewee to state the bleeding obvious – that goals win games, and who cares who scores them?
Practically every post-match player interview this season has had a should-the-strikers-be-scoring question; and practically every one has had the same obvious answer: not really, so long as we win.
To win the Premier League without a lethal target-man is seen as an impossible. Though very little is truly impossible, on pitch or off it, in this day and age.
Witness the sides that did it in the Champions League (Barcelona) and the World Cup (Spain, France).
The Premier League is late to the party – missing the obvious for too long. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Torres, Eto’o, Ba – zero Premier League goals between them right now. Their job will be done if the tally is the same come May, and Chelsea are champions.