"I'm happy with the three strikers for the rest of the season,” declared a poker-faced Jose Mourinho in the wake of Chelsea’s embarrassing 2-1 defeat by FC Basle last night.
A contender for least convincing fib of the campaign so far? You’d better believe it. It’s just not happening for the Blues’ front men, and everybody including their not-so-happy head coach knows it.
In 540 minutes of competitive football, just one goal has been scored by a centre forward; and that was Fernando Torres’ first-half strike in the UEFA Super Cup – effectively a friendly. This means six of their seven goals have arrived courtesy of others.
In the past I’ve always been a big Mourinho fan but it’s hard to look past the Portuguese gaffer when pointing the finger of blame. His handling of the whole Demba Ba/Romelu Lukaku who-goes-on-loan-who-stays-and-settles-for-being-my-third-choice-striker was grubby.
Rocked by his crucial penalty miss in Prague, the hungry and rapidly improving Lukaku needed an arm around the shoulder. Gentle reassurance that he was still rated would have sufficed. Instead, and despite being the star of pre-season, the Belgian was shunted in a taxi bound for Goodison Park. A good player lost.
Ba, another striker with bundles of quality, knows his new boss doesn’t fancy him. Unable to train as often as his team-mates, the Senegalese striker requires regular game-time to show his best work – as we witnessed at Newcastle United. Shorn of that privilege at Stamford Bridge, he’s appeared lumpy, off-colour and lacking in confidence. An occasional start, interspersed by substitute appearances won’t help.
The club’s initial willingness to loan him out was by all accounts a relief to Ba. After a late U-turn by the manager, how is he now supposed to feel about staying? The answer (knowing he’s still regarded as bit part) is probably, unenthused.
After all the Chelsea boss stated Arsenal’s improvements, rather than Ba’s qualities as the primary reason behind his decision.
Fernando Torres - seemingly first choice at the start of the season - looked sharp against Hull City and Bayern Munich, yet hasn’t started a game since. Replaced by the ageing, and not-especially-hungry Samuel Eto’o, has done little for the Spaniard’s fragile confidence.
For his part the Cameroonian may have wished for a gentler introduction to the Premier League than he’s experienced too. The adjustment from Russian football isn’t an easy one, and being thrust into the spotlight undercooked, has done Eto’o few favours in making a positive impression.
So that’s four strikers, none of whom are especially happy with their manager and vice-versa. If Mourinho ever repeats his trick of playing without a centre forward (like he did at Old Trafford) that dissatisfaction will only fester and grow. Ignore what he said. I’d be astonished if Chelsea don’t try and snare one of the world’s best strikers in January.
Behind the front men, Chelsea’s returning hero is also making a hash of things. Oscar is teacher’s pet, but the constant rotation of Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Kevin de Bruyne and Juan Mata around him, is doing nothing but harm to them all.
Rest and rotation is no substitute for form and rhythm, and so far none of those talents has had an opportunity to build either. What is Chelsea’s best XI? What’s their identity? Who are their go-to men? No one knows.
When Mourinho confessed in the same press conference last night that he was “responsible” for the loss to Basle, he was actually telling the truth.
For someone that’s rated as highly as he is for his man-management and ability to bring groups of men together for a common cause, Chelsea’s boss has made a messy and muddied start.
Will Chelsea bounce back vs Fulham this weekend? Check the latest odds.
Read former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke's Professionally Speaking column every Thursday.