Early Season Debate

It has been a very impressive start to the season for Chelsea with the only points dropped in the league coming away at QPR, victories over both North London clubs have followed, both being played away. In particular the performance against Tottenham proved the expansive, free flowing football that is going to be the foundation of this new look Chelsea side. Perhaps the most impressive part of this run is that there appears to be a lot more to come. The trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard are starting to build a better understanding of each other’s game and over time their movement, fluidity and interplay is only going to get better. Scary? I know. Two months into the season and the performances of players and the team have led me to ask these questions:

The Stamford Bridge equivalent of Napoli’s recently disbanded “Three Tenors” Barcelona’s former “Holy Trinity” (we really should have a name for them) brings me to my first point of debate and it is a great one for Chelsea fans. Who out of the three is the best player?

There could be a reasoned argument made for all three, Hazard’s start to the season was electric and the Belgian is a constant threat running at defenders and his most recent assist to Juan Mata was simply brilliant. His vision, speed and contrary to reports from the Belgian manager willingness to recover defensively when players are out of position is a great bonus.

Our next nominee is Juan Mata, last year’s player of the year looked to be struggling early on with his fitness, having not had a rest for 3 consecutive seasons, he has now exploded into life he currently stands on 6 goals and 7 assists in all competitions and was simply unplayable in the second half against Tottenham after the side went 2-1 behind. Mata’s ability to spot runs and play intricate balls through tight spaces is a joy to watch and having started his career as a striker he knows how to find the net when in an advanced position.

Last but not least we have Oscar, he’s found himself starting in the central role whilst the other two tend to be played outside of him. Of course this continually changes throughout the match but that speaks volumes about his ability and even more significant was his performance against Juventus. In particular his second goal, Oscar is arguably the most intelligent of the three, his movement may go unnoticed at times but he is continuously finding space and being a thorn to the opposition and for a player so small in build, packs a real punch in his right foot. Much like Hazard, Oscar’s tenacity in the middle of the park is refreshing to see for someone so talented he doesn’t let that stop him from working for the team.

Eden Hazard Juan Mata Oscar
Games 13 11 8
Goals 2 6 2
Assists 6 7 3
Key Passes 2.4 1.7 1.2
Dribbles (Per Game) 1.2 0.4 0.9

My Answer – Eden Hazard. This was a hard decision but in my opinion he has appeared to be the most complete player of the three so far this season. His pace and skill on the ball is a joy to watch and his eye for a pass is as good as either Juan Mata or Oscar.

My next point of debate appears to have split many Chelsea fans I know but does the form of Fernando Torres finally represent good value in the deal that brought him to Stamford Bridge?

As has been rightly pointed out by numerous people, no Fernando Torres did not set his fee but that was the amount paid for his services. The services of a then world class striker. During his spell at the club, there have been glimpses of that form but never on a consistent basis nor to the heights he showed at Liverpool. His current start to the season has been his most impressive but his performances have still left fans feeling frustrated when he appears to get the “hump”.

Yet, we top the league and his contribution to our position should not be overlooked, his work rate aside from the few occasions that he has appeared to be sulking has been as good as anyone, his goal against Arsenal was a great goal and showed real striker’s instincts in front of goal, his movement has looked much sharper and has found himself on the ball more and more, my only worry is his positioning when other players are in a position to cross the ball he often finds himself outside the box as he was trying to aid the build up play. Then again are we compromising in our expectation of his performances due to his slow start as a Chelsea player? In the league Torres has found the net 4 times in 8 games this season and although that is a promising return, how does he compare to two rumoured transfer targets for Chelsea in the future?

Stats since July 2011 (Club games only)

Radamel Falcao Edinson Cavani Fernando Torres
Goals 48 40 17
Games 58 57 62
Ratio 0.83 0.7 0.27

Even looking at stats from this season alone, Cavani has scored 7 goals in 9 games whilst Torres has managed 6 in 13, remarkably Falcao has found the net 12 times in 8 games. I’m not one who agrees with the argument that you can’t compare players in different leagues. Watching Falcao and Cavani it is hard to imagine their goalscoring ratios would suffer from a move to England. In fact Fernando Torres’ ratio for Liverpool was significantly more impressive than what he achieved at Atletico Madrid.

My Answer – No. This isn’t a rant against Fernando but I still feel there is a lot more to come and that although there has been obvious improvement, he has yet to establish himself as a star striker again. The coming months will be vital to his status at the club as a move for Falcao/Cavani seems likely, they are arguably two of the best strikers in the world, with Falcao this season only being bettered by Messi in terms of number of goals scored for Club in the major European leagues.

My final point from these opening 8 games is regarding a certain John Obi Mikel. He has been like marmite for Chelsea fans, there are his admirers and his critics but it is hard to imagine there are many of the latter this season. Having been in the shadow of Makelele and Michael Essien his form this calendar year has been at its most consistent. So, the question is John Obi Mikel finally fulfilling his potential?

The mobility of the midfield came into question after the first few games, especially the demolition job Atletico Madrid executed on a lackluster Chelsea side but Mikel’s positioning in the centre of midfield has been outstanding. He has impressed both defensively and on the ball. With the 4-2-3-1 set up and personnel used by Chelsea there is a great demand placed on Mikel to be disciplined in his role and to never stray far away from the defence. His awareness in filling in for Cahill or Luiz when they inevitably advance during the game has been flawless so far this season. Combine that with his ability to keep possession under pressure and keep the ball moving with a very high completion rate are all visible signs of his improvement and progression as a footballer.
For most Chelsea fans, Mikel has outshone both Ramires and Frank Lampard two players loved by the fans and two players who are very accomplished at their respective roles. At 25, Mikel is now entering the prime of his career and will have to maintain his level of performance if Chelsea hope to keep up their unbeaten start to the season.

2012-2013 League stats

John Obi Mikel
Pass Completion % 90
Interceptions (Per Game) 1.9
Tackles (Per Game) 2.6

My Answer – Yes. I’ve been a big fan of Mikel and although he has been frustrating at times, his calmness and ball retention skills have always impressed. He is now developing into a more complete defensive midfielder than he ever has looked.

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One response to “Early Season Debate

  1. I totally agree with yu on all 3 occassions hazard is outstanding and so is mikel as 4 torres he has 2 improve

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