What Sort of New Striker Would Best Suit Chelsea?
Whatever eventually happens this season, there are a couple of key areas Chelsea will need to strengthen over the summer to ensure they're battling to finish top of the Premier League rather than in the top four in 12 months' time.
Heading their list of priorities should be a new striker to provide the goals to win games, but who should that man be?
Certain names like Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani keep cropping up, but rather than regurgitate press speculation with one of those "five strikers linked to Chelsea" articles, I'll be putting more thought into it by posing the question: "What sort of striker do Chelsea need?"
Andrei Shevchenko and Fernando Torres were sublime talents in the right surroundings at their respective clubs before the Blues came calling, but neither of those two particularly fit the bill at Stamford Bridge, and as such, nigh on £80 million has been wasted.
When the club eventually plump for their new hit man, there needs to be much more consideration put into it than who happens to be heading the goalscoring charts in another league.
The forward to lead this team needs to compliment the other 10 playing behind him, and the best fit to better the team is not necessarily the best individual striker around.
Therefore, I'll be looking into different categories of strikers and weighing up which would suit this Chelsea side the most.
I've sub-sectioned five different roles of strikers and slotted names into each, so once you've had a read through and weighed up the evidence, make sure you let me know what you think in the comments section below.
For a decade, Didier Drogba was the striking spearhead synonymous with Chelsea's success, and it's fair to say the Ivorian has never been adequately replaced since departing last summer.
Drogba was never the most prolific striker, but he was a big-game player capable of scoring when it mattered, and the list of his most important goals runs long and deep.
However, if goalscoring wasn't his main attribute, then the way he lead the line single-handedly was.
Drogba was a vital cog in the Chelsea machine, and his physical and mental strength in occupying a whole back four allowed others to prosper.
If Chelsea want to copy the Drogba prototype, then they've already got two men at the club capable of filling the void.
Demba Ba demonstrated against Manchester United on Monday that he can rough up any defence and score with the most threadbare service, and given an extended run in the side I believe Ba could partially emulate the man he belatedly came to replace.
Then there's also the Drogba carbon-copy, Romelu Lukaku. The 19-year-old has been a revelation on loan at West Brom, and his performances at The Hawthorns suggest that he is the long-term answer to the Drogba-sized hole at the head of the Blues' attack.
Both Ba and Lukaku have the strength, pace and mobility to lead the line alone and play that selfless role of bearing the weight of the striking duties.
Yet the team as a whole are moving away from the style in which Drogba flourished, and the battering-ram main man isn't in keeping with the current bunch of fleet-footed schemers playing off the front.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea were fast and direct, and those were skills Drogba thrived off. His aerial ability and power at holding off his markers brought others into play and meant he got just as many assists as goals.
But I think that somebody more technically capable is needed to link with the "Three Amigos" and going back to the power approach of the Drogba days would negate the more cerebral style the side are edging towards now.
Ba and Lukaku would be ideal in certain games and in coming off the bench to mix it up, but these two alone wouldn't be enough going forward.
The False 9
The thinking behind this wasn't Lionel Messi, but that supremely gifted footballer who illuminated Stamford Bridge either side of the millennium.
No, I'm not talking about Gianfranco Zola, I'm on about Eidur Gudjohnsen.
You may remember that Jose Mourinho's much fabled 4-3-3 formation was first instilled into the Chelsea DNA after Didier Drogba was out injured in the autumn of 2004.
With Mateja Kezman struggling, the Special One switched to two out-and-out wingers and the twin flyers of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff gained much of the credit for catapulting Chelsea towards their first title in 50 years.
However in my opinion, Gudjohnsen's role in that team was criminally unsung, and I believe it was he—not the wingers—who put the spark into the side.
After Drogba came a cropper, the Blues won six of their next seven league fixtures, scoring four on five occasions.
Gudjohnsen played the perfect conduit in linking the powerful midfield and pacy wide men, and his deft movement, clever touch and innate footballing brain gently pieced the whole thing together.
Skip forward nine years and the midfield elements are similar now to what they were then. There's the pace and width of Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and Marko Marin, you have the passing ability of Juan Mata through the middle, and the strength and energy of John Obi Mikel and Ramires playing centrally.
Admittedly the latter of the list are not like Claude Makalele and Frank Lampard in their prime, but the danger from the flanks could certainly do with a focal point to bounce balls off, and Gudjohnsen did it better than most.
If Chelsea wish to implement a "false nine" of sorts, then Oscar and Eden Hazard have the technical ability and awareness to play at the top of the formation, meaning another winger would be required instead of a striker.
Demba Ba and Romelu Lukaku would be the fail-safe options if in need of a goal, but playing this way would effectively mean a 4-2-4-0, with a quartet of Hazard, Mata, Oscar and one other winger fizzing about and finding space all over the front.
It's a tantalising prospect and one that has worked for Spain and Barcelona recently, yet those two have both fallen foul to packed defences.
As aesthetically pleasing as it could be, you still need a main striker in the Premier League, so is there anyone out there who could "do a Gudjohnsen"?
Dimitar Berbatov could be one relatively cheap gamble; strikers like Stevan Jovetic and Andre Schurrle have the variety to their game to interchange with the rest and cause chaos for defences with nobody to mark.
It's certainly worth considering.
If it's goals and goals alone that Chelsea are after, then the best option could be a fox-in-the-box penalty-area predator who does nothing but stick the ball in the back of the net.
The previous two options—and the following two—have a more team-ethic logic to them, with the striker offering much more than just goals.
Personally I do feel the side would be better served with somebody who ticks plenty of boxes and as such I'm not overly enamoured at the prospect at Radamel Falcao arriving—as prolific as he is.
The opposing argument is that the attacking midfield men have enough ability amongst them to not need much support, and their creative chaos would reap even greater rewards if there was somebody there to regularly add the finishing touches.
As simplistic as this seems, though, if Chelsea persevere with just one man up the top, that person does need to do plenty of work in areas away from the danger zone.
The poacher generally goes missing for large amounts of games, and Chelsea aren't good enough at present to carry someone on the promise of goals.
If the poacher doesn't score, then he contributes little and is generally better served with a strike partner who can make up for his inactivity.
In my book, Falcao falls into this category, and the sums quoted for him are huge outlays given his limitations. He went through a barren spell prior to Christmas with Atletico Madrid and was anonymous for a month, offering little nothing else when the ball didn't drop his way.
But if Chelsea are after this type of player, then there are other alternatives that would make better business sense.
Jackson Martinez has emulated Falcao at Porto by scoring at a rate of one goal a game, but the Portuguese giants invariably charge a king's ransom for their star turns, and he won't come cheap now either.
Gonzalo Higuain could be surplus to requirements at Real Madrid depending on who they buy, and he would be dangerous in the Premier League, as would Mario Gomez if Pep Guardiola doesn't fancy him at Bayern Munich.
All in all, though, I'd be looking for the forward to contribute more all round to the set up.
The livewire would be a player who occupies the whole back four through perpetual movement as opposed to the physicality of the Drogba figure.
Immediate examples would be Luis Suarez, Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
The livewire's incessant running would be designed to move defences around and cause breaches of the line and pockets of space for the attacking midfielders to exploit.
Given what's already at the club and the intended style and shape that is being developed, I believe this type of player would be the best suit for the side.
Combining pace and mobility with touch, technique and tenacity, the livewire would be the ideal link-up man to combine with the wit and wisdom of Mata, Oscar and Hazard, and this spinning-top forward could add a lethal dimension to the current lineup.
Again, if Ba is retained and Lukaku recalled, there would be enough alternative firepower to call upon in an emergency, but the Plan A of an effective and incisive tip of the attack seems to be the way forward in my opinion.
The downside of this is that there would be no constant penalty-box presence and little aerial ability if the ground assault runs dry, but that's why you've got the big men on the bench, and few sides could cope with the dizzying blur of a quicksilver striker ahead of such a potent midfield trio.
But the real benefit of the livewire would come to the fore away from home with the counterattacking threat it could pose. At present, too many of Chelsea's breaks fizzle out without a forefront, and an adroit runner at the head of the pack could turn defence into attack in an instant.
In terms of who this elusive front-runner is, Luis Suarez could conceivably be purchased dependent upon Liverpool's finishing position and Chelsea attaining a Champions league slot—with Torres possibly lobbed in as a makeweight.
David Villa could be an astute one-season wonder and Udinese's Luis Muriel is a young striker I expect to do great things in the next couple of years.
It's also worth putting forward Islam Feruz, and anyone who's seen him play for the youth ranks this term will know he's the epitome of the livewire.
His time may be a little further down the line, but it's an intriguing thought.
As the name suggests, the all-rounder is a striker who does bits and pieces of everything.
Without making him out to be some sort of mythical figure, the player should be one who's equally competent in the air and on the deck, capable of playing with his back to goal or ball at feet, fast, strong, willing and able to find the back of the net on a regular basis.
At this juncture I'm thinking of Fernando Torres circa 2007, rather than the player who has sloped around Stamford Bridge for the past two years.
If—and it's a big "if"—somebody can finally get him going, Torres could be the man, but it appears that ship has sailed and an amicable parting in the summer seems best for all concerned.
It's probably not the wisest analogy to reference the all-rounder to Torres, but hopefully you get the idea of who I'm trying to describe.
Quality strikers who do the lot are few and far between, but they're not wholly extinct, and there are indeed a few out there who could fit the bill.
Edinson Cavani would be the obvious choice, but the economics of any deal means I would look elsewhere.
Robert Lewandowski is likely to be available with his Borussia Dortmund contract up in 15 months' time, and Galatasaray's Burak Yilmaz has suitably impressed enough in their Champions League run to suggest he could do a job in a decent team.
I also think Karim Benzema is as complete a striker as there is in the world game, and it will be interesting to monitor his situation at Real Madrid over the coming months.
If a deal could be struck for the Frenchman, I'd drive there myself to tie it up.
You can get hold of me on Twitter: @bainesyDiego10
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