Chelsea: 8 Reasons Blues May Struggle with Life After Didier Drogba
Chelsea have spent handsomely this summer to ensure that the club does not suffer the embarrassment of finishing in sixth place once again.
The arrivals of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar make the Blues a much better side than they were last season, but there was one notable departure a couple months ago that fans should remember when speculating about the club's fortunes this year.
After winning the Champions League for Chelsea with his last professional kick for the club, Didier Drogba moved on to Shanghai Shenua on a free transfer, following eight years of spectacular service for Chelsea.
With Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge the only true strikers left at the club, the team might struggle a bit more than you might think without the services of the dependable Ivorian.
Here are eight reasons why.
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Besides Drogba, there was no one at Chelsea last season, and there is no one this season who has his imposing physical stature and the strength to take on the rigors of the Premier League.
Fernando Torres is a tall man who can battle for the occasional ball if he wants to, but he relies far more on technical skill, positioning and pace to get into advantageous positions and beat defenders.
Especially with the departure of Romelu Lukaku to West Brom on loan, there is nobody left at Stamford Bridge who can bully his way through the opposition's defence like Drogba did against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals or against Arsenal so many times.
There will be no backup plan for Chelsea, then, if their intricate style does not produce goals.
The Fear Factor
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At the incredibly high level that Chelsea play at every week, much of the game is mental, and having the slightest advantage over your opponent can turn a split-second opportunity into a crucial goal.
Thus, the sheer intimidation that Didier Drogba brought with him on the pitch was invaluable to his team, and surely got into the heads of the teams he dominated for so many years.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, there could not be a stronger contrast between two players in this area than that of Drogba and his successor, Fernando Torres.
While the former has scored 100 league goals for the Blues, the latter has not yet fully recovered from his abysmal start to his career at Stamford Bridge and cannot make defenders quake in their boots in the same way.
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Chelsea are not as inexperienced as some, with John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech the elder statesmen who can guide the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Drogba, though, was right up there with the captain and vice-captain in terms of his clout at the club and the authority that his reputation for excellence had given him.
No matter how many capable leaders you have in the dressing room, losing a player who can say that he's scored in four FA Cup finals, won the Champions League with the swing of his foot and is the fourth-highest goalscorer in Chelsea history is quite a blow.
Arguably, the older heads at the club need to be phased out at some point, but Drogba is nevertheless a tough face to no longer see around.
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Amazingly, for all the money that Chelsea have spent this summer to bring in bright young talent, there are only two true strikers at the club, and one was played out wide for much of last season.
Roberto Di Matteo will have a hard time rotating his strikers this season to keep them fresh without the third man who can give the top two a rest.
Moreover, his tactical options and substitutions will be fairly restricted, as neither of his options are very different from the other.
With Didier Drogba in the team, either he or Fernando Torres could start the game, with the other ready to come on as a substitute (as in the Champions League final), and Daniel Sturridge could either play out wide or act as another weapon off the bench.
Now none of that fiddling is possible, although Sturridge shouldn't have to ever play as a winger again with the arrivals of Marko Marin, Eden Hazard and company.
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Few players consider the free kick to be as true an art form as sculpture or oil painting, but Didier Drogba approaches each and every set piece he takes just as Michelangelo approached a block of stone or Monet a blank canvas.
The pride that he took in his craft resulted in some stunning goals over the years and made every free kick within a 30-yard distance of goal a thrilling moment for Chelsea fans and a nervous one for the opposition.
There are still players in a squad like Chelsea's that can take a fine set piece, but none have the incredible combination of power and precision that Drogba possesses. He has the talent of a specialist, combined with the open-play skill of a world-class striker.
Record Against Rivals
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During the eight years in which Drogba plied his trade in the Premier League, few had better records against their most important rivals.
Having a player who consistently has another team's number is a truly invaluable asset.
Now, Chelsea won't have that against Arsenal, for example, against whom Drogba has scored a dozen goals in not too many more appearances.
Late in the season, if you have to go through a rival en route to a trophy, it gives the team tremendous confidence to know that a proven weapon is on hand to seal the victory in the clutch.
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One thing that you always got with Didier Drogba during his entire tenure at Chelsea was utter consistency—put No. 11 in the starting XI, and you were bound to get a quality shift, even if he didn't score a goal.
Neither of the strikers left at the club inspires this sort of confidence.
Daniel Sturridge is relatively unproven over a significant period of time at the highest level, and I don't have to mention Fernando Torres' mighty struggles.
Perhaps the Spaniard has put his worst days behind him, and with a goal in the Community Shield last weekend, he might have.
But there is a reason why he was almost always benched in favor of Drogba when the two were fit last season.
A Less Balanced Attack
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Without the services of Didier Drogba, Chelsea are simply a more polarized team that is more predictable in its tactics.
Though it is not as bad as the reverse, the Blues' attackers are all extremely technical players who can beat defenders with flair and speed, rather than power and composure like Drogba.
Thus, opponents can prepare for what they will face with near certainty, as the guile of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will not be counterbalanced by a strong center forward who can lead the line by himself.
Luckily, there is a versatile, quality player in line to replace Drogba in Fernando Torres, but even he is much more similar to the players who operate beside him than his predecessor would have been.
Roberto Di Matteo will have to find a way to solve these problems, but we would not have to have this discussion if Didier Drogba was available in some capacity.