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What Chelsea Can Learn From Borussia Dortmund’s Success
As Dortmund march towards the Champions League final, Tom Gatehouse examines how Chelsea’s similar make-up could see them benefit from similar team unity.
Chelsea are the last British side competing in Europe this season, and they certainly have their eyes trained on the prize and are on course for the final after a 2-1 away win last night in the first leg of their semi final with Basel. While the Europa League has been universally labelled the ‘second class’ European trophy on offer, there can be no doubt that Chelsea want to get their hands on it. The Blues have consistently fielded a strong side in their run to the semi-final, and that trend does not look like changing. The club realises that some decent silverware would go a long way to papering over the cracks of what has been an up-and-down season of transition.
After watching Borussia Dortmund dismantle the Spanish giants, Real Madrid, on Wednesday night, it is clear that Chelsea could benefit from employing a number of aspects from the German side’s game into their own; as Chelsea’s make-up has obvious similarities to the high-flying Germans.
Firstly, and most obviously, Fernando Torres should take note of the phenomenal season that Robert Lewandowski has had. Scoring all four goals against the mighty Madrid on Wednesday, the Pole is the in-form striker Europe. His ability to lead the line on his own, linking up play with ambition and obvious confidence, and lethal ability in the box makes him the ideal example for Torres to scrutinise.
Like the Chelsea man, Lewandowski has had to endure periods of isolation up front on his own, chasing shadows, all the while waiting for his teammates to bring him into the game. But, unlike the Spaniard, Lewandowski is a patient striker, unperturbed by the lonesome job, making sure he is always in the right place at the right time; and that intelligence has paid dividends this year.
Torres should look at the success of Lewandowski, a man who shares plenty of his attributes, and gain confidence. Fernando Torres has shown in the past that he can be even better than the Dortmund striker, and while that brilliant past may not return in abundance for the currently masked striker, there can be no reason that he should forever flounder. This is not just up to the Spaniard though, as no player can play on his own.
Lewandowski’s prosperity up front is in no small part thanks to his brilliant support cast. Bayern-bound Mario Gotze, trickster Marco Reus, and speed-demon Jakub Blaszcykowski are brilliant foils for the lanky striker. Their speed, vision and unselfishness have helped Lewandowski to 35 goals in 43 games this season.
Chelsea’s own dynamic trio are certainly talented enough to provide for a willing striker. Mata, Hazard and Oscar have the ability to become the most feared triumvirate in the Premier League. But, while they have started to gel with each other in the short time they have played together, often with spectacular results, they have not managed to blend in the striker they are meant to provide for.
Torres’ fall from grace has been well documented, but even the arrival of Demba Ba has not initialised anything close to a concrete connection between the midfield and the forward. With Frank Lampard playing a deeper role in the Chelsea side, that is if he even plays at all, the brunt of the creativity falls to the three attacking midfielders further forward.
While the attacking impetus firmly remains with the trio, the man leading the Chelsea line is, more often than not, left in the cold. And while there is nothing wrong with spreading the goals amongst the whole team, every side needs a reliable, goal scoring player to strike fear into the opponents.
An observant spectator would have noticed the connection between Torres and Juan Mata. Close friends off it, their interchanges on the pitch are the only consistent line of communication between midfield and up front for the London side. Eden Hazard, the Belgian maestro, does not have this connection with the out of sorts Torres. The body language between the two is not much more than ambivalent; while Oscar has not had enough time yet to form much of an understanding with his front man.
This is a crucial link that is missing at Chelsea.
Lastly, another key area for Dortmund was their centre midfield partnership of Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan, who suppressed the flair of Madrid, and prevented them from taking a strangle-hold of the game, with 90 minutes of tireless running, and intelligent passing. Without Frank Lampard, who according to Benitez can no longer play every game, Chelsea’s playmaking from the centre is severely lacking.
Watching them against Liverpool on the weekend, it was clear to see that Mikel and Ramires only served to slow the game down with nullifying sideways passing, and proved to have yet another unsatisfactory relationship with the men ahead of them. Hazard and Mata often had to drop back to receive the ball, removing any thrust or attacking impetus from the move. Instead, like in many instances this season, Chelsea’s game was played out on the edge of the opposition’s box, not utilising their counterattacking potential, leaving the players desperately looking for a way through.
It is yet another area of concern for the Blues, one that must be rectified if they are to attain the quick-flowing football they so obviously crave.
While Dortmund stride towards the possibility of an all-German Champions League final, Chelsea remains on the path to recovery. That path, for now, remains the Europa league, but the Blues know they belong at the top table. Borrusia Dortmund are showing the world just how successful good link-up play, tact, and guile can be based around the foundations of excellent communication.
Many areas of Chelsea’s team have been criticised this year, but it is the unit as a whole that is need of a re-tuning The balance is absent, and without it, Chelsea will continue to stumble towards their goals, emitting an overreliance on individual brilliance, rather than march purposely towards them as a team in perfect unity.
What do Chelsea fans think the side can learn from Borussia Dortmund? What does the team currently lack? Share your views in the comments section below.