Chelsea then and now – Midfield and Offense

In the previous part we took a detailed look on how Chelsea’s defensive structure has changed with time. In the second part we shed light upon the midfield and offense of Jose Mourinho’s 04-05 title winning side and the 14-15 title hungry side.

It was the defense which took away the limelight in 13-14 upon Mourinho’s return to Chelsea, this season it has been the attacking force that has been a constant threat for opponents in the Premier League.

Let’s compare players from both sides on their midfield and offensive positional plays.

Central Midfielder: Claude Makelele vis-a-vis Nemanja Matic

Signed in the summer of 2003 Claude Makelele was Chelsea’s engine for many years. Makelele was a key player in Chelsea’s successful 04-05 season, winning both the Premier League and the League Cup. Termed as the “battery” of the team, Makelele was immense in the midfield making sure the offense could showcase their attacking skills. One of the greatest international signings for the Blues was so good he had a role named after him. After 144 appearances and 2 goals for Chelsea, In 2008 at the age of 35 the Frenchman moved to Paris Saint Germain on a free transfer and retired in 2010.

Sitting right in front of Gary Cahill and John Terry, Nemanja Matic has governed the “Makelele role” this season for the Blues. The Serb has a great range of passing, can go forward when needed and will cover every inch of the pitch. In 19 appearances this season in the Premier League the 26-year-old has already played a staggering 1710 minutes on the pitch with a 87.1% of successful passes. He acts like a wall derailing the opposition’s attack making sure nothing goes past his long legs. In Nemanja Matic the Blues have found a perfect player to fill the void left behind after Makelele.

Central Midfielder: Frank Lampard vis-a-vis Cesc Fabregas

Widely regarded by pundits, managers, and team-mates as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, in 04-05 Lampard played in all 38 Premier League matches for the third consecutive season. The Chelsea Legend finished with 13 goals (19 in all competitions) in addition to leading the league in assists with 18. Purchased from West Ham for £11 million in June 2001, Frank Lampard turned into a Chelsea Legend over the years. In 04-05 the English International was a versatile box-to-box player, and could play anywhere in midfield with great stamina. Despite his deep playing position Lampard was a prolific goalscorer; his accurate, powerful shots from distance and his ability to read the game took Chelsea to a new level. In 429 appearances for Chelsea, Frank Lampard scored 147 goals and was named the 2005 Footballer of the Year. The summer of 2014 saw Chelsea release the Legend who signed for New York City F.C and is currently loaned to title rivals Manchester City.

Compared to Frank Lampard, Cesc Fabregas is a completely different player. Fabregas adds a bit more flair to the midfield with his creative abilities. Signed in the summer for €33 million, Cesc Fabregas has settled well in the first team alongside Nemanja Matic. The Spaniard’s passing has become key for the club’s shift in playing style. The former Arsenal captain reads the game well and has a great understanding with the strikers and the attacking midfielders and has been very solid going forward. He has been the master of passes at Chelsea, an incredible 2.57 key passes per game, also creating a mind-boggling 3.31 chances each 90 minutes. On course to be crowned the assist king this season, the Spanish International has 14 assists in 19 games in the Premier League and is bound to overtake Lampard’s 18 (04-05) and Henry’s 20 (02-03) assists in one season. Fabregas has been phenomenal in set-plays and at a mature age of 27, the Spanish international has a lot more to show in the coming seasons. Defending when needed, attacking when needed; Cesc Fabregas has looked more at home at Chelsea than Barcelona.

Right Winger: Arjen Robben vis-a-vis Willian

Purchased from PSV in 2004 for €18 million, Robben did not make his competitive debut for Chelsea until November 2004. The Dutch winger was a vital player in Chelsea’s attack with great creative, dribbling skills and the ability to seamlessly run with the ball. Regarded as one of the best wingers in the world, his ability to get to the byline and deliver accurate crosses instils fear into any defense. In his 67 appearances for the club, the fleet-footed wide-man scored 15 goals before moving onto Real Madrid in August 2007 for £24 million and in the summer of 2009 moved to his current club Bayern Munich.

Willian perhaps might not be as creative as Robben but he his just as quick and possess a great amount of work rate game in and out. This season the left wing is a position up for grabs with the German International Andre Schurrle and Brazilian Willian fighting for the left wing position, but the Brazilian has slowly made himself indispensable from Mourinho’s first team, he’s among a group whom Mourinho now calls his “fundamental” players. Purchased from Anzhi Makhachkala in 13-14 for £32 million, Willian has slowly come through from the benches to grab his spot. The Brazilian has 5 goals to his name in his 41 Chelsea appearances, but it’s not the goals Willian is valued for but as a complete player he offers much more. There isn’t a player quite like him and Mourinho knows it.

Attacking Midfielder: Eidur Gudjohnsen vis-a-vis Oscar

In 2000, during a period of financial troubles at Bolton, Eidur Gudjohnsen was signed for £4 million by Chelsea. His dribbling and close control, combined with his deadly finishing, saw him score some remarkable goals. After the arrival of high-profile players like Mutu and Drogba his place in the team seemed uncertain, despite this he regularly played during the 04-05 season. The Icelander was a wonderfully adaptable player for Chelsea and got himself on the score-sheet quite often. In 186 appearances for the Blues, Gudjohnsen scored 54 goals. With big names like Shevchenko and Kalou in the squad, in 2006 the Iceland international joined Barcelona for €12 million. Today Gudjohnsen is back playing for Bolton after 14 long years.

Oscar might not have the goals compared to Eidur Gudjohnsen but his work-rate has been phenomenal as is his passing and the pace he possess. At only a tender age of 23 the Brazilian has achieved a lot of success playing behind the striker this season.He is an outstanding dribbler and is extremely effective in building up play higher up the pitch. Acting like a catalyst in Chelsea’s attack, he paddles back to defend and closes down opponents at a great speed, making him a perfect Mourinho player. The man to bench former Chelsea player Juan Mata certainly has proved he is one of a kind and perhaps an unsung hero for the Blues.

Left Winger: Damien Duff vis-a-vis Eden Hazard

Duff was purchased from Blackburn Rovers in 2003 for £17 million where he won two Premier League titles and another League Cup. The Irish International was strong and powerful on the attack. Duff and Robben often dominated and tortured defenses from the Premier League. He was quick at crossing the ball into the box and great at taking set pieces. A winger who loved playing constant short passes as well as hold on to the ball and wait for the opponent to falter. He scored 14 goals in 81 appearances before heading to Newcastle United in 2006 and at the age of 35 currently playing for Melbourne City.

Eden Hazard is the most valuable player for the Blues. The Belgian has everything that Duff had and much more. Regarded to be one of the best young players in the world, Hazard has turned into a fearless, explosive attacking midfielder who can change the game with a turn of pace or a dribble. Seen regularly switching flanks since he’s great with both feet and his mesmerizing dribbling skills are a nightmare for defenses. The Belgian was influential last season and has been authoritative this season. At the age of 23 Hazard has developed into a phenomenal product for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho. In 20 Premier League appearances this season, Hazard has created 52 chances and has a average pass accuracy of 88%. With Chelsea signing players like Fabregas and Costa this summer, the Belgian does not have the same pressure as last season and can unleash his jaw dropping attacking skills.

Striker: Didier Drogba vis-a-vis Diego Costa

The Ivorian took some time to settle at Chelsea, taking seven months to score 12 goals. Signed in 2004 for £24 million from Marseille, Drogba still remains a fascinating player that Chelsea has ever seen. Described as a late bloomer, Drogba is noted for his physical strength, ability in the air, and his ability to retain possession of the ball. He was powerful and intrusive in his approach, a commander on and off the field. Aside from his goalscoring ability, Drogba has provided plenty of assists. In May 2012, the Ivorian moved to Shanghai Shenhua in China and in January 2013 settled with Turkish Giants Galatasaray. The Legend was back home to Chelsea in the summer of 2014. The Ivorian, 36, won 10 trophies at Chelsea from 2004 to 2012. Today he might not possess the pace he had 7 years ago but he certainly possess the hunger for winning trophies.

Unlike Didier Drogba, Diego Costa was quick to settle into the Chelsea squad. The Blues struggled for a perfect number 9 after the departure of Drogba and had their wish granted for £32 million from Atletico Madrid in the form of Diego Costa. The Spaniard sits ahead of Manchester CIty’s Sergio Aguero in the Premier League table with 14 goals in 17 games. Costa’s stature and physical style of play suits the Premier League, he loves to bully defenders no matter how tall or how strong they come. A great header of the ball combined with his finishing skills makes Diego Costa a feared striker for the opponents. The Spanish international has also been attributed with a greater ability to keep possession of the ball than any Chelsea striker since Drogba first left the club in 2012.

The only difference between these two legendary sides remains the lack of trophies that the 04-05 squad has to showcase. With new summer signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa are perhaps the missing pieces to Mourinho’s puzzle. Back then Mourinho favored a 4-3-3 formation, it was a different era for the 04-05 squad but today with a 4-2-3-1 formation the 14-15 squad certainly have got all it takes to be crowned champions once again.

In Mourinho’s 120 Premier League games during his first spell, Chelsea conceded just 67 goals. In the same period, Manchester United let in 89, Arsenal 106, Liverpool 95 and Tottenham 144.

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Edited By: Ankur Bhatt

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