Monday Verdict: Striker problem at Chelsea and Villa

Date published: Monday 9th November 2015 12:29 - Mark Holmes

Willian and Diego Costa: Look despondent during Chelsea's defeat at Stoke City

Mark Holmes pinpoints Diego Costa as the biggest problem in the Chelsea squad and says Aston Villa must buy a striker in January to survive.


Much has been said and written about an apparently improved Chelsea display in their 1-0 defeat at Stoke City on Saturday evening, but it was a performance a long way off what they require to get back to anywhere close to where they would like.

In the first half, despite seeing more of the ball, the Blues only forced Jack Butland into action twice – once to routinely tip over a long-range Ramires shot and then again just before half-time to deny Diego Costa with his feet. They were the better side but hardly what you could call impressive, with Asmir Begovic making arguably the best save of the half to prevent Glen Johnson’s effort from finding the bottom corner.

Even after Marko Arnautovic’s goal in the 53rd minute Chelsea could hardly claim to have laid siege to Stoke’s goal. Pedro curled an effort against the post, but it was not until the 86th minute that the Blues finally opened up the hosts’ defence when Loic Remy was put through and was unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty after hurdling a challenge from Jack Butland, who got nothing on the ball.

But in 98 minutes that was as good as it got for the champions. They finished the game with 63% possession but, much like Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, lacked ideas once they got into the final third. Stoke sat off them and challenged them to break through, but it rarely looked like happening. Nobody took responsibility to drive into the box, midfielders did not look to get beyond Costa, while only four crosses swung in during the second half tells its own story.

Confidence throughout the squad is clearly a problem, but the biggest issue for Chelsea is the form of Costa, who barely troubled Stoke’s defeat at the Britannia Stadium and simply didn’t get into the penalty box enough. Whether that is down to a lack of belief in himself or his team-mates ability to engineer him a chance is open to debate, but the fact that the best chance of the game fell to Remy, a 77th-minute substitute, says a lot.

Bizarrely, the Frenchman has been afforded only one start in the Premier League all season and five appearances in total, the last three totalling 31 minutes. Radamel Falcao has also started only once, with Costa preferred in the other 10 despite contributing only two goals.

As with his persistent use of Branislav Ivanovic before his injury, Mourinho’s continued selection of Costa can only be considered a misuse of the squad at Stamford Bridge. Terry, Matic, Fabregas and Hazard have all paid the price for under performing on occasion, but there are few bigger problems for any team than a striker that doesn’t get in the box. Remy simply has to be given a chance in Costa’s place.

It would be wrong to place Chelsea’s problems at the feet of Costa alone – Saturday was the first time in a long while that Hazard looked anything like his usual self, while neither Ramires nor Pedro offered enough from an attacking perspective – but the luck Matic claims the team are missing is unlikely to come without a striker putting himself in the positions to get chances.


Talking of teams with a blunt attack, Remi Garde’s first game in charge of Aston Villa against Manchester City made for interesting viewing on Sunday.

I wrote about their performance in more detail immediately after the game, but in a nutshell the Villans could be described as resembling a brand new gun without any bullets. They played some nice football, but it was chanceless football…which can ultimately only be classed as poor football.

Despite having a commendable 48% of possession in the first half, Villa managed only a solitary touch in City’s penalty area. They put together several fine passing moves to work the ball into the final third, but time and time again they were reluctant to swing in a cross – with nobody to aim to.

Garde had made six changes for the game, with all four summer signings from Ligue 1 recalled, but his selection of Scott Sinclair ahead of Rudy Gestede or Gabriel Agbonlahor up front left Villa without a focal point to their attack.

That is not to suggest, however, that Garde made a mistake in selecting Sinclair. Villa’s use of the ball, in particular during the first half, was a large reason for them keeping City at bay – their possession-based approach was a more effective one than hitting long balls at Gestede and hoping for something to stick would have been up against Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi.

However, that Garde felt Sinclair was Villa’s best option up front highlights the severe lack of quality in that area – and the challenge the Frenchman has on his hands to keep the Midlands club in the Premier League this season. He has already shown himself to be tactically astute, but good tactics without good players are worth little – Villa simply must back him in January or prepare for the Championship.

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