Chelsea’s triple threat shows tremendous promise

(Getty)

Stamford Bridge hasn’t been a natural home for gifted playmakers in recent years.

Chelsea have had Frank Lampard — a top-level attacking midfielder at his peak, but a powerful runner and an excellent goal scorer rather than a beautiful provider. There was Joe Cole, who briefly fulfilled his great promise, but critics said he was limited by defensive responsibilities under Jose Mourinho.

…..

Things are different now.

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This season Mata has been joined by Eden Hazard and Oscar. And, for that matter, Marko Marin and Victor Moses. That is five new attacking midfielders in the past 14 months, and Di Matteo’s formation is 4-2-3-1, rather than the 4-3-3 hangover from the Mourinho days. This is a new Chelsea, an overwhelmingly creative side structured to maximise the imagination of three — yes, three — playmakers. Last year, we were marvelling that they simply had one.

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Mata is a ghostly playmaker, a cunning creator who drifts into clever positions, passing smoothly and effectively. He likes to play the final pass, but is equally happy to keep moves flowing, allowing others to be incisive.

Hazard is more direct. He has a great turn of pace, a more rapid dribbling style. His “rabona” against Arsenal last weekend showed his capacity for tricks, the type of thing Mata would only do in training. He’s a more reliable goal scorer — but as Ligue 1’s top assistor last season, he’s clearly a creative player too.

Then there’s Oscar. He’s generally been used as the central player, but isn’t the typically languid, artistic South American number ten. Instead, he’s efficient and unfussy with his use of the ball, his movements are quick and purposeful, and he has a quick burst of pace to evade opponents. He’s also a responsible player without the ball

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…..against Arsenal on Saturday was telling. In such a big game, Di Matteo didn’t go defensive. It was Hazard. Oscar. Mata. Ramires was alongside Jon Obi Mikel, and Lampard was on the bench.

It worked better: Mata created from the right, Oscar did his job in the middle, Hazard had a couple of decent moments on the left. There was more structure, less constant rotation and more immediate width, although Chelsea were unable to score from open play.

There remains a problem defensively. Arsenal kept exploiting the space in behind Hazard in the first half, and it was no surprise that their equaliser came from that flank.

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Di Matteo remained less enthusiastic, but is committed to the idea of Mata, Oscar and Hazard together. “We still have a lot of work to do” he admitted. “It’s a matter of working on the training ground and trying to improve.” Again, no actual praise for the players — Di Matteo was simply saying he’s waiting for them to click.

Then you realise that Di Matteo’s side are top of the league with 16 points from six games, despite their new attacking unit having yet to function cohesively. When it all comes together, we could be in for something special.

Read the rest of Michael Cox a freelance writer for ESPN.com on Chelsea’s triple threat shows tremendous promise. He runs zonalmarking.net.

 

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