How the false nine solves Chelsea's scoring problems
Background photo: Vespa, CC: BY-SA-3.0
Chelsea impressed English football this term with crisp passing and front-foot football. For all that, the Blues haven’t wowed anyone in terms of scoring. Except for their early-season shootout with Arsenal, Chelsea have only hit for three in the Premier League against relegation-threatened sides Huddersfield and Southampton, four against Burnley and Crystal Palace. Compare with Manchester City who found the goal three times against top-half clubs Everton, Bournemouth, West Ham  and Manchester United. They've bullied the lower-table sides even more, scoring a mere three versus Fulham but five against Cardiff and Burnley, six against Southampton and Huddersfield,
Chelsea has struck 35 times in the League this campaign. That’s a sizeable sum but still behind Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. For a team playing such positive football, they should be nearer City who’ve scored 48 times.
If Man City and Chelsea can go toe-to-toe in passes (11,945, 11,722) and shots (313, 281); there shouldn’t be such a disparity in goals. There is. Why?
Chelsea strikers not named Eden Hazard tend to misfire. Without a prolific, clinical centre-forward, it’s almost impossible to score enough goals to win the Premier League. That was proven with Liverpool last season. Their goals came mostly from a winger, Mohamed Salah.
Maurizio Sarri can call upon Alvaro Morata and one Olivier Giroud. Neither can be relied on for goals. Morata will be caught offside before you finish reading this. Stats show they’ve both scored as many league goals as Pedro (6), who isn’t in form.
Chelsea knocks it about pretty well. Five of their players rank among the Premier League's best passers. It's the side who knocks it in the most that comes away with three points, however. Chelsea don't have a ruthless finisher.
At Napoli, Sarri used Dries Mertens as a false nine in an attacking triumvirate which included Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón. It was a truly devastating frontline that almost broke Juventus’ hegemony. It was expected Sarri would’ve tried something similar at Chelsea long before now.
It’s become overwhelmingly evident. Chelsea can score goals with or without Morata and Giroud in the squad. Forget those guys. Play Hazard as a false nine, flanked by Pedro and Willian.
It took the threat from Manchester City to force Sarri’s hand. When he finally tried it, lo, it worked. It was tried again at Brighton - still perfect. In those games, Hazard scored once and laid on three more. False nine is the way to go.
You can see the trend. It can only get better.
The situation is remarkably similar to Chelsea's previous Italian manager. Antonio Conte resisted using the back-three he had to such effect with Juventus and the Italian national team because he was trying to adapt to 'English football'. When he finally switched, the Blues ran away from the pack. Sarri must forget about how everyone else does it and re-commit 100% to Sarri-ball.
Help from abroad
How long will Chelsea milk Hazard? The Belgian can burn out or pick up an injury, leaving the Blues in a mire. He may also leave in the summer for Real Madrid. To remain at Stamford Bridge, Hazard needs help. Especially if Sarri is going to carry on playing a false nine.
Chelsea has the means to attract a supremely talented winger who would fit perfectly as a dummy striker. But they won’t find their man in the Premier League. The Blues must scout elsewhere. Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Leon Bailey are three players who Chelsea can realistically poach.
Will Sarri sanction a raid on his former team? Insigne and Mertens are gems. Perhaps it’s Bailey for the job. The 20-year-old Jamaican is immensely talented and already a Chelsea fan. It needs to be someone, though. And soon.