How Can Chelsea Play Eden Hazard, Hulk and Fernando Torres Together?
We live in a prisoner-of-the-moment society, where Di Matteo’s reputation as a defensive manager erased the fearless attacking football he played at West Bromwich Albion.
With the Chelsea players he had at his disposal, he made a rational decision that playing attacking football or trying to play attacking football would get him sacked faster than André Villas-Boas.
In an ideal world, Di Matteo will have a deadly triumvirate of Hulk, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. How does the Italian manager make it work with Fernando Torres?
Last September, Fernando Torres criticised Chelsea for being slow-paced, though he insists he was misquoted.
The implication of his quote was Chelsea don't give him enough support. With a triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Hulk—Torres should improve his goal-scoring rate.
Opponents have to pick their poison because Chelsea have pace, creativity and unpredictability. Should they choose to leave Hulk one-on-one with a weak full-back, expect the Brazilian to wreak havoc. Just ask David Luiz, who was humiliated at left-back by Hulk when Porto won 5-0.
Eden Hazard is dead-set on playing as the No. 10, and this season he accumulated a goals scored/created average of 0.90 per game when playing centrally.
Juan Mata's best role is as the No. 10, but he'll have to play second fiddle to Hazard, because remember what the Belgian said:
I have always dreamed of playing the number 10 role, and wearing that number on my back, and you can see what a difference it makes from how many goals I have scored and set up for others. That will be a consideration when I decide on my club. Where I will play will influence my thinking on who I should join.
The two holding midfielders have to possess positional discipline and deep-lying playmaking ability.
Frank Lampard is not lacking in these areas but will he be content with playing a deep-lying role week in, week out?
Ramires is a hyperactive box-to-box midfielder, not a player confined to a zone. He is better running with the ball at full tilt than dictating play.
When Juventus tried to play Felipe Melo as a deep-lying midfielder, he failed abysmally.
Former manager Cesare Prandelli alluded to why Melo was not a success at Juve:
If the opposing player comes too forward and enters a space, he has some difficulty handling him. He has the physicality and personality, but not great vision of the game. He has the physical strength, but he needs to learn what to do with the ball.
We would give simple tasks to Felipe Melo, in the middle of the park, or on the right because he is not a director of play.
Ramires is instinctive, loves to roam and isn't a conductor.
So, how do Chelsea fix this situation? Sign Yann M'Vila and Jordy Clasie. However what happens with Lampard and Ramires?
When Fernando Torres looks to his left, he'll see Juan Mata; when the No. 9 looks to his right, he'll see Hulk.
However this formation is built around Eden Hazard, not Torres. It empowers the Belgian as the large majority of Chelsea's meaningful attacks will go through him.
He has four options: a diagonal pass to Hulk or Mata; a through ball to Torres; or he can keep possession by forming a triangle with the two holding midfielders.
The lack of a true holding midfielder, let alone starting two of them, rears its ugly head again.
This season, Torres repeatedly yelled at Daniel Sturridge for imitating Arjen Robben.
In the UEFA Champions League, Hulk averaged seven shots per game compared to 0.8 shots created. Simply put, Hulk will treat Torres the way the French treated Stéphane Guivarc'h during the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
Without Fernando Torres: 4-1-2-3
Eden Hazard will be required to put on his superman cape every game—like Lionel Messi. He will play the Messi role for Chelsea, which means the end of Fernando Torres, just like Messi effectively ending Zlatan Ibrahimović's career at Barcelona:
It started well but then Messi started to talk. He wanted to play in the middle, not on the wing, so the system changed from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1. I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed.
Ramires will be able to play his box-to-box role in this formation, which adds a lethal dimension to Chelsea's attacks. The reason why the Blue Kenyan is generally in advantageous positions is opposing centre midfielders can't keep up with him.
Frank Lampard is allowed more leeway with his positioning but every time Ramires goes on a run, the Englishman will drop back.
Barcelona get away with playing no centre forward because they have Messi—will it be the same if Chelsea play Hazard?
John Obi Mikel won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship Silver Ball as an attacking midfielder. For Chelsea, he is a make-shift holding midfielder and unsurprisingly his tackling is below par.
It's imperative for the holding midfielder in a 4-1-2-3 to be a dominant ball-winner.
Here's a comparison of Mikel's defensive statistics to Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bruno, Daniele De Rossi, Michael Carrick, Mikel Arteta, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Yann M'Vila.
|League Only||Tackles Per Game||Interceptions Per Game||Tackles Per Foul|
Without Hulk: 4-4-2 Diamond
It looks narrow but Ashley Cole provides the width on the left and Ramires provides the width on the right.
The combination play between Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard could rival Celta Vigo's triumvirate of Alexander Mostovoi, Haim Revivo and Valery Karpin for panache football.
Will Hazard help out Fernando Torres?
Mata will, but it remains to be seen if Hazard will pass up an opportunity to score. Moussa Sow, Túlio De Melo and Nolan Roux can attest that the Belgian will pass, depending on his mood.
He's not wired like Mesut Özil, who is pass-first, because the Belgian is an alpha personality.
Without Hulk: 3-5-2
In a 3-5-2, the wing-backs are burdened with an unenviable workload, where they have to provide width in attack and fall back in defence.
Ramires' energy is perfect for this role, just like Serse Cosmi playing Juan Cuadrado as a right wing-back for Lecce.
If Ramires and Ashley Cole are caught out of position, the opposing team can drag one of the wide centre-backs out and exploit the main centre-back.
What About Daniel Sturridge?
If Chelsea sign Hulk, it's a blessing in disguise for Daniel Sturridge, because he doesn't want to play as a right forward or a right attacking midfielder.
Sturridge will have to hope Fernando Torres misfires with world-class talent around him. This will enable the Englishman to get his chance as the centre forward.
What About Marko Marin?
Marko Marin was an inefficient playmaker for Werder Bremen.
He played his best football on the left but Juan Mata is likely to play there. If the Spaniard plays the No. 10 role, Eden Hazard will play on the left.
What's the point in buying Marin only to use him as an impact sub?
If Chelsea wanted impact subs, here are a few better options: Luis Muriel, Jefferson Montero and Juan Cuadrado.
How about Gökhan Töre? He had a higher dribbles per game average than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribéry, Mario Götze, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Luis Suárez and Eden Hazard.
What About Romelu Lukaku?
Don't be fooled by Romelu Lukaku's chiseled physique. He's only a kid—a humiliated, confused and mentally damaged teenager:
I don't like people talking to me about the Champions League. It wasn't me, but my team that won. When [Salomon] Kalou put the cup on my lap in the bus I asked him to take it away immediately. I didn't want to touch it because just as with the Champions League I had no part in it at all. Chelsea really wanted me last summer and paid a lot for me but after a while I thought, are you just throwing money around?
He scored goals for the reserves but still wasn't given a chance. André Villas-Boas wouldn't even start him in training games, let alone play him as a centre forward:
Right from the beginning, it was weird. I could not stand how he was treating me. I received no explanation. In training, he put me on the right or left wing. In training matches, I was a substitute with a shirt to keep swapping teams. I really learned nothing.
What crushes Lukaku is that he is a Chelsea supporter. Here's a funny conversation between him and his teacher during a school trip to Stamford Bridge:
TEACHER: It's time to come with us to the conference room for a moment. You can dream on later as much as you want.
LUKAKU: Dreaming? This is not dreaming. I will do it. One day I will play here, you'll see.
A few years ago, he was a prodigious school kid bulldozing his way past experienced professionals in the Belgian Pro League.
If he can overcome this adversity, he will be a prolific forward with or without Chelsea. If he doesn't—congratulations Chelsea, you've wasted £20 million.
Lukaku needs to know that great forwards in the past overcame distress early in their careers.
Thierry Henry wasn't given a chance at Juventus. Dennis Bergkamp was a scapegoat at Inter Milan. Diego Forlán was a running joke at Manchester United. Gabriel Batistuta wasn't wanted at River Plate. Paolo Rossi won the Ballon d'Or and 1982 FIFA World Cup after a two-year ban for match fixing (he claims he was innocent).
What About Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin de Bruyne's ambidexterity must be exploited just like Norwich City taking full advantage of the two-footed Anthony Pilkington.
When De Bruyne joined Chelsea, he said:
At Genk I have played on the left of midfield but when I was younger I played as an offensive central midfielder. I am a creative footballer with two good feet I think, especially the right one. At Genk I create chances for the team.
Translation: play me as an attacking midfielder.
He was granted that request during the Belgian Pro League playoffs, scoring once and providing six assists in seven games.
After the signing of Eden Hazard, one can only quote Romelu Lukaku:
Chelsea really wanted me ... but after a while I thought, are you just throwing money around?
Comment below with your starting Chelsea XI using lineup builder.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.