Finishers pivotal to success but Chelsea prove exception to enduring rule
Mourinho’s side devoid of top front men but are still on the cusp of success
Manager John Still of Luton Town during the Skrill Conference Premier match between Luton Town and Braintree Town this month. Photograph: Tim Keeton/Getty Images
When Steve Bruce restates one of his favourite phrases – “You are only as good as your strikers” – his opinion tends to provoke knowing nods. To an extent it is a statement of the obvious, but sometimes the obvious is overlooked in the search for some tactical mystery.
David Moyes probably agrees with Bruce. Robin van Persie scored 26 Premier League goals last season. This season Van Persie has 11. Brendan Rodgers may not quibble given the 49 league goals accumulated by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
And for Bruce, the opinion doubles as policy. He can offer evidence from this January window. It was then Bruce signed Nikica Jelavic from Everton and Shane Long from West Bromwich Albion. At the end of January Hull City were four points above relegation. This morning Hull are six points off with a game in hand.
Jelavic has scored three goals in 12 Hull appearances, Long has three from 11. It is hardly a goal burst, but Jelavic’s have come against Sunderland and Cardiff City, Long’s against Tottenham, Sunderland and West Brom. Hull’s victories over Sunderland, Cardiff and West Brom could be the ones that keep them in the Premier League.
Statement of intent
Bruce’s attitude would be that those six goals alone should be enough to justify the €14.6
million outlay of January. Without those goals, without the impetus of signings and the sense of ambition they create within a squad, Hull City could be four, five or six points worse off. Hull could be looking at an FA Cup final against Arsenal six days after a possible relegation at home to Everton. You’re only as good as your new strikers. Bruce is right.
Then Jose Mourinho steps forward. If you are only as good as your new strikers, imagine how good Chelsea will be next season. For quite a bit of this, Mourinho has bleated about his old strikers, old in terms of their Chelsea longevity – Fernando Torres – and old in terms of age, Samuel Eto’o.
Yet here we are, past mid-April, and Chelsea are hovering with intent again. They can still win the Premier League, can still win the Champions League. And their top scorer is a wide midfielder. Eden Hazard has 14 goals. Chelsea may be the exception that proves Bruce’s rule.
Bruce knows, of course, that it is about more than just his strikers. A team is also only as good as its defence, its midfield, its squad, its manager, its bank account. At the end of that sentence, there is a club that emerges: Chelsea.
A feelgood factor has washed over Merseyside in the past six weeks, bathing Liverpool and Everton in neutral good wishes. But Chelsea are still there. The Premier League title is in their hands as much as Liverpool’s.
As much as we can be irritated, and then some, by Mourinho’s behaviour – the undisguised disdain for Manuel Pellegrini, the snubbing of Arsene Wenger – it must be accepted when push comes to shove, that he is good at push and shove.
Chelsea now enter an 11-day period that will not just help define their season, it could shake their world. It begins today when Sunderland go to Stamford Bridge. We can be fairly sure that Mourinho will not want a repeat of Sunderland’s 2-2 result at Man City on Wednesday, not least because a Chelsea victory would offer further proof, in Mourinho’s mind, of his superiority to Pellegrini.