False nines come in a variety of shapes and sizes—almost as many as orthodox centre-forwards.
There's the Lionel Messi-for-Barcelona type, skilful players who start at centre-forward and then drop deep, looking to feed runners who go beyond them.
There's the Cesc Fabregas-for-Barcelona type, midfielders who start at centre-forward but use their midfielder's skill set to alter the function of the role; Fabregas at times seems almost like a target-man who plays on the ground, always being used to bounce balls off.
And then there's Andre Schurrle.
Wednesday's game against Paris Saint-Germain was the third time Jose Mourinho has used Schurrle as a false nine, after attempts against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup and Manchester United in the Premier League.
The idea against PSG was presumably for Schurrle to offer a threat on the counter-attack, using his pace to try to get behind Alex and Thiago Silva, while at the same time dropping in when necessary to become an additional midfielder and allowing Oscar to close down Thiago Motta without risking Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi or one of the two full-backs breaking forwards untended.
From an attacking point of view, it didn't really work, and for much of the game Schurrle was peripheral. In the first half, according to stats from Whoscored.com, he attempted only 17 passes, fewer than any other Chelsea player in the time he was on the pitch, and no shots.
It's true that with Samuel Eto'o injured and Fernando Torres horribly out of sorts, Mourinho had few options, but it was little surprise when Schurrle was withdrawn just before the hour.
It's always harder to determine how effective preventative defensive moves have been. By definition, if the ploy is effective, it will cause nothing to happen, so you're always looking for an absence.
In the sense that Motta's influence over the game was limited, it was effective, although the suspicion is that that was down more to the diligence of Oscar, an excellent defensive forward, than Schurrle's support—and Oscar himself was of limited creative threat as a consequence.
It was the clash between Matuidi and Willian that proved key, although this was an odd game, drifting as much on mood as tactical ploys. PSG's opener, lashed in from John Terry's clearance by Ezequiel Lavezzi, came after Matuidi had found space on the PSG left to cross.
Then PSG dropped deep, seeming happy to invite Chelsea on to them and looking to use the pace of Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani on the break.
That seemed a waste of momentum, allowing Chelsea a foothold, although they'd offered little threat before Thiago Silva lunged needlessly at Oscar as Willian picked him out with a cut-back to concede the penalty from which Eden Hazard equalised.
As PSG looked shaken, Willian suddenly had the better of that battle, and it was from another of his crosses that Hazard volleyed against the post. In the second half, though, the momentum shifted back to Matuidi, who coaxed David Luiz into conceding the free-kick from which the own goal came.
The third PSG goal, meanwhile—"sloppy" according to Gary Cahill, "ridiculous" according to Mourinho—was the result of a collective lapse by Chelsea, three players missing challenges on Pastore before Petr Cech let in the shot at his near post.
Torres, who had just come on when the second was scored, offered little more than Schurrle had from an attacking point of view, though, other than the sense that he is at least a true centre-forward.
In the third of the game he played, he touched the ball only 12 times, offering nothing in terms of an outlet, while managing a passing accuracy of just 50 percent and failing to have a single shot.
The other notable thing in that final half hour was how much easier PSG found it in midfield. That may, in part, have been because Oscar tired and was replaced—and because PSG were able to bring on three substitutes of the calibre of Lucas Moura, Yohan Cabaye and Pastore—but the absence of Schurrle dropping back was perhaps missed.
As Mourinho said, they were controlling the game before Schurrle went off.
The use of Schurrle may not have been a triumph, but it was a lot better than what came after.
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