Can Aubameyang answer Chelsea’s striker issue?
Chelsea were the better side in Sunday’s pulsating 2-2 draw with Tottenham. They deserved to win, reflected in their 16 shots to Spurs’ 10, an expected goals of 1.53 to 1.06.
Thomas Tuchel’s side dominated the ball, penned Tottenham back at times – especially in the first half – and ultimately conceded two contentious goals. Yet a familiar problem reared its ugly head.
Tuchel said he was delighted with his team’s performance, but while Chelsea’s opening goal did come from a set piece, the presence of a recognised centre-forward was conspicuous by its absence once more.
In the first 20 minutes, there were crosses going in left, right and centre. They didn’t have a number nine in there, Sterling wasn’t quite in the right areas
Chelsea produced 25 crosses in open play against Everton. They managed another 23 here, but it rarely looked a profitable route to goal. No side has recorded more failed crosses than their 38 in the two rounds of Premier League matches.
It was only due to Tottenham’s frailties at zonal marking from corners that allowed Kalidou Koulibaly to even have the chance at attempting his audacious volley, while Reece James’ strike came as a result of an overload at the far post.
Chelsea wasted several chances to increase their lead with Raheem Sterling blazing one great chance over and it was easy to understand Tuchel’s frustration when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg levelled.
Two games in, it is already a talking point where the goals are going to come from, unless a recognised centre forward is found.
‘Don’t remember what they were like; look at how they are today’
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness:
“For all their fabulous football, they should be having more than three shots on goal today. When Romelu Lukaku is at it, he’s as good as anyone as a No 9. He felt they weren’t playing to his strengths.
“Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is 33 years old. [Tuchel] knows him from his time at Borussia Dortmund. Jock Stein would say, ‘don’t remember what they were like. Look at how they are today and make a judgment on today’. It didn’t work out for him at Arsenal for whatever reason. The hardest place to play on the pitch is up front.
“Aubameyang found it difficult here playing up front for Arsenal, so is it going to be different for him playing for Chelsea?”
Sky Sports’ Karen Carney:
“Chelsea played well against Tottenham but it’s that one final missing piece – the number nine. They didn’t do enough to win the game. In the first 20 minutes, there were crosses going in left, right and centre. They didn’t have a number nine in there, Sterling wasn’t quite in the right areas.
“He’s not the answer, for me. He will add goals, but they need a striker. The two best, available strikers have gone to the other two teams in Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez.
“It might have to be someone who is tried and tested in the Premier League. I know Romelu Lukaku was here previously but he didn’t really do it at Manchester United and the other strikers haven’t done it even. So they may need someone who knows the league inside-out. It’s the one missing piece for them.”
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher:
“Romelu Lukaku just wasn’t the right fit. The way Chelsea played with such intensity in the first half, I’m not sure they could’ve played that well with Lukaku. That’s one of the reasons why they had to move him on because he basically stood up front. I don’t think he worked hard enough, which is one of the reasons why he’s gone.
“The right striker would take Chelsea to being the nearest challengers to Liverpool and Manchester City, as they were last season. I felt they would have a point to prove today. For Tottenham, it’s a great point but I still feel they will come away thinking there’s still another level for them to get to in order to really challenge Chelsea, Liverpool and City.”
Mind the gap: Chelsea still have Spurs’ number
They may have left Stamford Bridge with an important point but on one of the hottest days of the year, Spurs managed to freeze for large parts of a barnstorming encounter. Perhaps the expectation on their shoulders was too great.
“The first half will have been a wake-up call for Tottenham’s players,” said Carragher.
This was supposed to be the time where Spurs kicked on and proved their potential prowess at competing for major honours across all competitions.
Chelsea were undercooked, supposedly – not ready to show their best form with Tuchel still not 100 per cent happy with the balance in his squad. Well, if this was Chelsea undercooked then perhaps Manchester City and Liverpool will have to take them seriously as a title challenger this season.
As Tuchel said, they were brilliant.
Spurs were pulled all over the pitch by Chelsea’s fluid movement in midfield. Jorginho picking passes, Mason Mount popping up in dangerous positions and the wide outlets in Marc Cucurella and Ruben Loftus-Cheek causing Tottenham’s defenders no end of problems. At the break Tottenham had been forced to make 13 clearances, Chelsea just one. It told the tale of a one-sided first half.
There was a reaction in the second half from Antonio Conte’s side but it was more a reliance on individuals creating something out of nothing rather than well-constructed team attacks that allowed them a passage back into the game. What remains their greatest strength is their ability to score when on top in a game. Both their goals came in such scenarios. Not a bad skill to have mustered by any means but on the balance of overall play, they were clearly second best.
Even Conte admitted they remain a level below what Chelsea are producing.
He said: “The difference is clear. Chelsea won the Champions League two years ago, the Club World Cup and made the final of the FA and Carabao Cup and third place last season.
“There is a difference between Chelsea and Tottenham. I’m not here to discover this. But we want to reduce the gap. We have to work – it will take time. But at the same time, last season we lost three times to Chelsea. Now we drew. It’s a little step forward.”
Wasteful West Ham continue goal-shy run
It was another baron day for David Moyes and West Ham. Declan Rice has missed two of the three penalties he’s taken in the Premier League, including each of his last two efforts from the spot. But that wasn’t the root cause of their downfall.
Against Man City last week, they averaged 23 per cent possession across the 90 minutes, today that was up to 56 per cent, yet they still trailed Nottingham Forest’s six shots on target – managing only four. One of those was entirely unopposed from 12 yards.
David Moyes described the goal his side conceded as “rotten to the core”, but in truth they were undone by a lack of spark and creativity in forward areas. Perhaps some may argue that luck played its part, having had two strikes from Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma crash off the frame of the crossbar as well as a goal disallowed by VAR, but there’s little riposte for their somewhat unimaginative collective approach. Both of the aforementioned long-range strikes were speculative – and had they gone in, would have represented individual moments of brilliance.
They were not a product of incisive attacking play, or sustained goalmouth pressure. A late Maxwel Cornet cameo did nothing to change that stance, although by that point the Hammers were entirely bereft of ideas.
A focal No 9 continues to evade Moyes’ clutches and in stark contrast to Forest’s blueprint for success – which centered around the tricky Taiwo Awoniyi – they look far short of a side who are going to make inroads on the top six this term.
Forest’s new signings rise to the occasion
It would have been understandable if this Nottingham Forest team had looked thrown together given the turnover of players this summer but they played like a unit in their extraordinary 1-0 win over West Ham at the City Ground on Sunday.
Defenders threw themselves in front of shots, midfielders worked up and down in the mid-afternoon heat and in striker Taiwo Awoniyi, their goalscoring hero up front, they had a player embodied the spirit that supporters wanted to see on their Premier League return.
The sense that this was a special day was palpable long before kick-off. Forest head coach Steve Cooper acknowledged that there were two factors at play – the occasion and the game. His players mastered both despite some of them not having played here before.
The matchday programme had included a four-page section encouraging fans to ‘get to know the new faces’ in the squad but they will know them now. Orel Mangala and Lewis O’Brien were immense in midfield. Neco Williams was superb. Jesse Lingard ran and ran.
Some of them were struggling for fitness. Mangala had only been training for a matter of weeks. O’Brien had an operation in the summer. Awoniyi ran himself ragged along with the rest. “It is just another step forward towards becoming a fully-blown team,” said Cooper.
It needed luck. Of course, it did. But Steve Cooper, in his second Premier League game and up against a man in David Moyes with 623 of them now behind him, will be thrilled with what he saw. If this team can keep the crowd involved, they will win home games.
And Cooper can keep them involved. On the pitch, there was the customary fist-pump celebration that greets victory. Off it, he dedicated the result to the many Forest fans who would love to have had a ticket. He gets it. It is no surprise that his new players do too.