How Jose Mourinho Will Utilize Chelsea's Stockpile of Playmakers
Their hopes of signing Wayne Rooney fading, Chelsea were reported to be turning their attention to Samuel Eto’o on Tuesday, with Jamie Jackson of the Guardian reporting a £5 million bid being prepared for the Anzhi Makhachkala forward.
Eto’o, 32, was acquired by current Blues boss Jose Mourinho when the Portuguese was still in charge of Inter Milan, and together they won a historic treble in 2010.
But the Cameroon international’s addition would only further crowd Mourinho’s attacking corps—adding yet another option to a group of playmakers already tipped by many to have the club at or near the top of the Premier League table when the final ball is kicked in May.
Chelsea, after all, have spent the past few transfer periods stockpiling young, imaginative attackers.
In August 2011 they paid £17 million (including add-ons) for Anderlecht striker Romelu Lukaku—a piece of business that was followed just four days later by the £23.5 million acquisition of Juan Mata.
That winter, Lucas Piazon was signed from Sao Paulo for £5 million, and the rights to Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne were purchased from Racing Genk for £6.7 million.
Last summer saw an escalation of this type of signing at Chelsea. Victor Moses, Marko Marin, Oscar and Eden Hazard were brought into the club for a total of around £65 million. On January 4 they added Newcastle striker Demba Ba for £7 million.
And over the past few months, they have shelled out £18 million for Bayer Leverkusen’s Andre Schurrle and another £8 million for Vitesse Arnhem’s Marco van Ginkel.
Marin has already been sent on season-long loan to Sevilla, and each of Piazon, Gael Kakuta and Thorgan Hazard (Eden’s younger brother) will be spending the next 10 months away from Stamford Bridge as well.
But plenty of strikers, wingers and attack-oriented midfielders still remain. Putting them to effective use will be among Mourinho’s greatest challenges this season.
Already it looks as though Oscar will be among the first names on the teamsheet.
The 21-year-old, who impressed last term after making a name for himself at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2011, started three of Chelsea’s final four preseason matches and came on at halftime in the other. Twice used in the central playmaking role of a 4-2-3-1 formation, he also operated to Lukaku’s right in a 4-5-1 setup against Real Madrid.
That he can play across the attack makes him instantly attractive to Mourinho, but both Mata and Hazard offer that flexibility as well.
Incidentally, Mata was used sparingly as Chelsea’s preseason came to a close and could well end up being one of the odd men out.
Then there are Schurrle, Van Ginkel, Moses and De Bruyne. Both Van Ginkel and De Bruyne are capable of playing in a deeper role alongside Ramires and John Obi Mikel, but they will also challenge for minutes in more advanced roles. Schurrle, meanwhile, will look for time on the left of the attack while Moses throws his hat in the ring on the right.
It’s also on the right that Eto’o would be looking to carve a place for himself if he joins Chelsea this summer. An out-and-out centre-forward through much of his time at Barcelona, he was pulled slightly deeper and deployed to the right of Diego Milito at Inter. Mourinho seemed to trust him in the position.
In any event, the 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1 formations would seem to be the systems Mourinho will alternate between over the next few months. Lukaku, given his performances in preseason, likely has the inside track on the centre-forward’s position, with Ba and Fernando Torres battling for second spot on the depth chart.
But behind them in either system will be four places available to no fewer than seven players. Assuming Oscar and Hazard already have strangleholds on two of them, there are two places for five players.
Mourinho won’t be afraid to pick his favourites in the early going and stick with them as long as they perform. How he goes about maintaining the happiness of the others could well be the determining factor in any success Chelsea experience this season.
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