90min
Chelsea

Chelsea should abandon striker pursuit in favour of a creative midfielder

Tom Gott
Chelsea's lack of creativity was exposed against Arsenal
Chelsea's lack of creativity was exposed against Arsenal / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
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For Chelsea fans, Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Arsenal was tough to watch for a whole lot of reasons.

The comical self-inflicted goal was hard enough, but the hour of uninspired, stalemate football that followed was painfully disappointing. Chelsea had almost 70% of the ball and yet failed to really test Bernd Leno in the Arsenal goal.

You might think that this game was evidence of why Chelsea are so desperate to sign a new striker this summer, but honestly, what would Erling Haaland or Romelu Lukaku have done differently in this game?

Kai Havertz, Gabriel Magalhaes
Kai Havertz had his space limited by Arsenal / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

To Arsenal's credit, they took their undeserved goal and ran with it. Up against the nimble Kai Havertz, they dropped so deep and eliminated every inch of space in the box, and when the towering Olivier Giroud came on, they pushed up so high that they even managed to get themselves on the ball for a minute or two.

They should never have had that goal in the first place, but once they were ahead, they asked questions Chelsea were unable to answer. They challenged the Blues to break them down, but Thomas Tuchel doesn't have those kinds of players at his disposal.

Chelsea have a lot of players who enjoy running at defenders and beating them with pace and movement. Havertz, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi all fall into that category. It's a valuable skill, but one that offers next to nothing when opposing defenders limit the space in behind them.

Against Arsenal, none of those forwards could run because there was nowhere to go. If they ran at a full-back, they'd run themselves off the pitch, and on the odd moments they made it past, the only option was a cross into a box which featured about ten centre-backs. It was the kind of game which was crying out for someone to find a different way through like Cesc Fabregas always could.

Cesc Fabregas
Chelsea have lacked creativity ever since Fabregas left / Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea passed left, hit a wall and turned right. They went over to the right, hit another wall and were forced to re-think, usually ending with a 40-yard howler from Kurt Zouma - a pattern which lasted almost the entire game.

We did see a change in that regard in the 78th minute, when Hakim Ziyech entered the field. The Algerian is no speed demon and prefers to let his passing do the talking, but he's already starting to look a little like a one-trick pony.

Ziyech loves a back-post cross from the right wing, but when it comes to unlocking a stubborn defence, he's only marginally better than the rest, and the same goes for Jorginho in midfield. Chelsea have players that can pass the ball well, but they lack that elite creator. It's been a problem for years.

If Haaland or Lukaku were at the top of this team, they would have been starved of service and opportunities, just like Havertz and Giroud were. You can have the best player in the world in attack, but if you can't give him the ball in useful positions, he's not going to do anything for you.

Erling Haaland
Haaland would encounter the same problems / Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

It's in this situation that Chelsea needed someone like Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes, Jack Grealish or another genius creator to give them another edge, and that should be Chelsea's primary focus once the summer transfer window opens.

A new striker would still go down well - let's not pretend that Chelsea wouldn't score more goals with an elite option up top - but until there's a reliable stream of creativity coming their way, no striker is ever going to hit the heights expected of them.

It's no coincidence that Chelsea's last player to hit 20 Premier League goals in a season was Diego Costa, who was led to that point by the creativity of Fabregas. You need both a scorer and a passer to get there, and at the minute, Chelsea barely have either.

Thomas Tuchel
Tuchel needs more creativity in midfield / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In terms of targets, Grealish may be too expensive, but players like Udinese's Rodrigo de Paul or RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo may be viable options for a Chelsea side crying out for a genuine source of creativity.

On paper, Chelsea don't need another attacking midfielder, but what they do need is a different type of player. Until that creator arrives, low-block defences will always be a problem for the Blues. Now that the weakness is out there, they'll become more and more frequent, so an immediate solution is key.


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