Will Chelsea Ever Find Another Player Like Didier Drogba?

drogbaPhoto by Adrian Dennis/AFP

With Jose Mourinho looking set to return to Stamford Bridge this summer, the ‘Special One’ will be reunited with some mainstays in his former Chelsea teams. The club is in the middle of a transitional period, with players like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar (among others) both changing the team’s style of play and reducing the average age of a team that had been built around John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba since Mourinho arrived at the club in the summer of 2004.

The rebuilding period has been required. John Terry is now 32 and made just 14 appearances in the league over the 2012/13 season (11 starts, three off the bench); Frank Lampard will turn 35 over the summer after an impressive season in front of goal; Ashley Cole is 32; and Michael Essien, returning from a loan spell in Madrid with Mourinho, is 30. Didier Drogba, of course, is no longer with the club after departing the club last summer and is now playing for Galatasary after a short spell in China.

It’s Drogba’s replacement that will be one of Mourinho’s first issues if and when he returns to the club. Defensively, Chelsea were solid over the course of the season – only two clubs allowed fewer than the 39 goals conceded by the Blues in the Premier League (Manchester City and Arsenal). The Blues main issue was that they lacked a player like Drogba; that physical presence and consistent goal threat in the striking department. Only Lampard (15) and Mata (12) reached double figures, with only eight of Fernando Torres’ 23 goals coming in the league.

Replacing a player of Didier Drogba’s quality would always be a tough job for the club – he was a threat on the ground as well as in the air, scoring 157 goals during his eight seasons at Stamford Bridge. At the height of his career, the Ivory Coast international was one of the world’s best strikers. However, he was still a key member of the Chelsea squad as he got older.

While the next Chelsea manager could bring in someone new, the club’s upper management will likely want Mourinho to persist with the 29-year-old Torres as they are still seeking a proper return on their £50M investment on the striker.  Mourinho also has Demba Ba in the squad, who will only turn 28 this summer and has impressed since joining the club in January. However, Ba scored just twice in the league since the move. Nonetheless, there is a third internal option who was the top scoring Chelsea player in the Premier League last season – and he is also returning to the club this summer.

Romelu Lukaku signed a five year deal with Chelsea in August 2011, and was signed to be Drogba’s long term replacement. However, Lukaku made just one start and seven appearances off the bench in his debut season with the Blues – failing to find the net. He’s just 20 years old, and is coming off a season where he scored 17 Premier League goals for West Bromwich Albion. Looking at Drogba’s final three seasons with the club in comparison to the 2012/13 performances of the trio, not one of them is close to Drogba’s 2009/10 season in terms of goal scoring:

chelsea strikers
For a full breakdown of this week’s matches, check out https://www.bloombergsports.com/football/.

Drogba turned 32 during the 2009/10 season, with age and injury likely combining to play a role in his goalscoring decline. While Lukaku did lead his current competition in goals this season, what is even more impressive was that he made just 20 league starts – scoring 11 goals in the process. Furthermore, the Belgian scored 32% of West Brom’s goals this season, tied for the third highest contribution from one player to his team’s goals in the league – behind Christian Benteke (40%) and Michu (38%). He also found the net once every 117.8 minutes on the pitch, which was the third best minutes per goal rate in the league – trailing Javier Hernandez (94.8 minutes per goal) and Daniel Sturridge (113.9 minutes per goal).

What Didier Drogba offered Chelsea was a huge physical presence to lead the line, and Drogba’s physical strength was evident in his aerial ability. Drogba consistently won more than 50% of his battles in the air, while Ba narrowly led Lukaku with 43.4% of aerial duels won:

drogba aerial
For a full breakdown of this week’s matches, check out https://www.bloombergsports.com/football/.

Ba’s numbers are boosted by his time with Newcastle. The Senegalese striker won 36.7% of his aerial battles as a Chelsea player, averaging 1.3 won per game (in comparison to his 46.0% of aerials won and 2.9 won per game over the first half of the season). Nonetheless, Drogba was consistently strong in the air – and if Mourinho reverts back to the shape and style that he had during his first spell at the club, it’s Lukaku and Ba that appear to be the better options.

Drogba’s aerial ability also created chances for players around him and this can be seen in his key passes and assist statistics, although it should be noted that pass success percentage failed to reach the 65% mark over his last three seasons at Stamford Bridge:

chelsea passing

Ba again topped the trio in both passing success percentage and passes per game; although he was also the least creative – with Lukaku and Torres both averaging a chance created per game. Much like with the percentage of aerial battles won, Torres had the lowest percentage of successful passes and was the only player below the 70% mark. Nonetheless, when looking at Drogba’s overall offensive performance it highlights how good the striker was for the club even as he got older.

Unless Jose Mourinho elects to buy a striker this summer, the probable next Chelsea manager does have options in the striking department. Fernando Torres and Demba Ba are established Premier League strikers, albeit with Torres still trying to rebuild his value after failing to settle in with the club after his arrival from Liverpool in January 2011. Romelu Lukaku is more of a wild card; he’s had a great season with West Bromwich Albion, however he is still just 20 years old and needs more first team football. If Lukaku is not going to be a first choice striker for Chelsea,  it may be better for the Belgian international to spend another year out on loan. Lukaku does appear like he is developing into being the long term replacement for Didier Drogba that was envisioned when he signed with the club – the only question is going to be when Chelsea give him the opportunity to prove it.

For a full breakdown of this week’s matches, check out https://www.bloombergsports.com/football/.
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