At nearly every position, Roman Abramovich has provided Jose Mourinho with multiple world-class options from which to choose. The Portuguese manager has been tasked to select the best of each and win Chelsea commensurate silverware.
With the Premier League season starting next Saturday, Mourinho will become a boxing promoter of sorts—pitting and evaluating his players against each other in friendlies and training, attempting to find the strongest links.
After the Blues' transfer window, there are three bouts of worthy distinction:
|The Main Event: GK||Petr Cech||vs.||Thibaut Courtois||9 August|
|Undercard No. 2: RW/RAM||Andre Schurrle||vs.||Willian||8 August|
|Undercard No. 1: RB||Branislav Ivanovic||vs.||Cesar Azpilicueta||7 August|
From 7-9 August we will break down each positional competition and lend an opinion for which player should make Mourinho's first-choice starting XI.
Undercard No. 2: Willian vs. Andre Schurrle
Even for big clubs, change is inevitable.
At Manchester United, Louis van Gaal has thrown convention to the wind, electing to test the 3-5-2 formation at Old Trafford. It seems a brave move and will surely liven up every Red Devils match; Chelsea, meanwhile, have smaller formational questions—but questions all the same.
Mourinho could use the 4-3-3 or the 4-2-3-1. In certain respects the two formations are similar, but a glaring difference between them is the absence of a recognised "No. 10."
In theory, were Chelsea to play 4-2-3-1, central midfield would always be balanced. Should the ball be played left, the right holding midfielder would stay positioned and vice versa when the ball is played right. Providing wingers and centre-backs with assistance on either side in the event possession is lost.
Despite being the best formation for Chelsea's personnel, the 4-3-3—by comparison to the 4-2-3-1—is exponentially more punitive to rampant attacking sides.
Therein lies the conflict between Andre Schurrle and Willian.
For sake of argument, let us assume Nemanja Matic is holding in the "Makelele Role," Oscar and Cesc Fabregas are the central midfielders and there are two wingers wide.
The natural inclination of both Oscar and Fabregas is to play forward. Neither footballer should be tasked with holding in midfield to create a temporary 4-2-3-1—as their games are not tailored for such responsibility. As an acknowledged "No. 10" would be gone, the notion of balance becomes paramount.
Pairing Schurrle—a known offensive threat—on the same side as Fabregas looks a dangerous proposition, as they are likely to be caught frequently out of defensive position.
Joining Oscar and Schurrle would work in a vacuum, as the Brazilian is industrial, but the decision would leave Filipe Luis on an island were opponents to start on the right, then switch play to the left in rapid succession.
This may improve with another season under the same management, but Mourinho expressed his disappointment with Eden Hazard's defensive commitment in May, saying: "[Hazard] is not so mentally ready to look back at his left-back and leave his life for him," as noted by The Guardian's Dominic Fifield. As such, pairing Hazard with Fabregas on the left seems another recipe for peril.
If Oscar is "industrious," Willian can be classified as "sedulous;" he provides Mourinho an equitable combination of technical ability, energy, creativity and defensive prowess. Additionally, besides Ramires—who is affectionately known as the "Blue Kenyan" in Brazil due to his endurance and stamina—Willian has the best engine in the Chelsea first team.
While Willian cannot rival Schurrle in terms of goalscoring, he might not need to be in 2014-15.
Diego Costa's presence is sure to increase Chelsea's goal tally from strikers, translating to the midfield's burden lightening. At least one forward option must have attacking and defending on their mind, Willian has shown he can do both.
That said, game plans rarely run smoothly. Should the Blues need goals in the latter stages of a game, Schurrle is unquestionably a great second-half player. Of his eight goals scored in the Premier League, five have come after the 50-minute mark. Facing a tired defence and wreaking havoc look to be well-within the German's capability, as displayed in the 2014 World Cup.
During eight-day periods when the Blues play three games, Mourinho's ability to rotate between Willian, Schurrle and Mohamed Salah will be an extra advantage. Keeping all three, but especially the main two options, happy and healthy during a long campaign is without doubt a key to success in west London.
To class Schurrle or Willian a "better option" on the right wing is not simple or even tenable. Different matches and formations will decide who plays. For the more defensive, controlled occasion, Willian should be installed. Against sides ready to be thrashed, Schurrle's clinical goalscoring nature—matched with solid covering in midfield—should prove a winning formula.
Fights which end in draws, though, are maddening—so who is our winner?
It is well understood Chelsea supporters love Schurrle, and for good reason. The World Cup champion plays with verve, scores goals and his presence suggests the Blues are attempting to "play football;" however, Mourinho is known to appreciate solid defence and balance above overt, attacking opulence.
Chelsea's boss is more Floyd Mayweather—a polarising, defensive savant—than Manny Pacquiao.
While Andre Schurrle's inclusion represents a barrage of uppercuts and hooks meant for destruction, the Portuguese is more likely to choose a player who represents a beautifully countered overhand right for his first-choice starting XI.
Result: Willian wins by split decision.
Undercard No. 1: Branislav Ivanovic vs. Cesar Azpilicueta
The Main Event: Petr Cech vs. Thibaut Courtois