According to the online news media Evening Standard, though it may prove to be futile there is a good reason why Chelsea will continue to pursue a British-record £70million deal for Juventus star Paul Pogba until deadline day next week.
While the form and fortune of captain John Terry continues to take centre stage, it is Chelsea’s problems in front of the back four that need urgently addressing most of all.
With no clean sheets since returning to pre-season training and seven goals conceded in just three League games, the easiest thing to do would be to point the finger at the performances of the defenders.
West Brom certainly sensed a weakness in Chelsea’s rearguard and could have taken all three points with more assured finishing.
The visitors looked just as porous as when they were swept aside by Manchester City the week before and against Swansea on opening day. Branislav Ivanovic continues to be a shadow of his usual self, Gary Cahill did not even start this match, while Terry failed to finish the contest for a second Sunday in a row — this time because referee Mark Clattenburg sent him off rather than manager Jose Mourinho taking him off.
As each goal has been conceded by Chelsea this term, one can only imagine the nervous glances members of the Everton board take at their phones, just waiting for the next huge offer for John Stones to come in.
Yet even the talented 21 year old would struggle to keep goals out playing in this Chelsea side at the moment.
For Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas just aren’t a quick or physical enough duo to form an impenetrable barrier ahead of Chelsea’s backline in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The pair’s ability on the ball and their attacking qualities are unquestionable but when faced with pace and clever movement, they’re found wanting.
Tottenham should take all the credit for being the first to expose this soft underbelly back on New Year’s Day at White Hart Lane, where they knocked five goals past Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois.
Until then, Chelsea’s exciting attacking play last season had the opposition running scared and unwilling to launch many forays forward of their own. But that evening nearly eight months ago exposed some of the chinks in Chelsea’s aura of invincibility.
That is not to say Matic or Fabregas are bad players, they are just not a mobile enough partnership to do the job Mourinho wants on a consistent basis.
It was a surprise to many observers that the Chelsea coach paired them against Manchester City — of all teams — at the Etihad Stadium.
Fabregas was easily bypassed time and time again and Matic was left with too much ground to cover.
Perhaps in home games against lesser opponents, when Chelsea will be expected to dominate possession, the double act can still be deployed. But in tougher encounters, Fabregas needs to be pushed further forward into the No10 position and out of harm’s way.
The other contenders to play next to Matic aren’t good enough for the role, either. Ramires and John Obi Mikel are squad players at best, not long-term solutions, whereas Kurt Zouma’s future lies at centre-back. It’s the dynamism of Pogba that is required and that is why Chelsea are prepared to smash their own transfer record — the £50m they paid Liverpool for Fernando Torres in 2011 — to get him.
The France international’s pace, strength in the tackle and ability on the ball would form the perfect union with Matic’s reading of the play and positional sense.
For now, it is the stuff of fantasy. Juventus will take some persuading to part with their prize asset, no matter what personnel Chelsea offer in a player-plus-cash deal.
Still, it is no wonder Chelsea supporters remain excited at the prospect. The team’s attacking play remains something to be feared and the arrival of Pedro from Barcelona has kick-started it back into life.
As suspected, with the Spain international running with menace on the right flank, Eden Hazard found more room to exploit on the other at the Hawthorns. With Diego Costa also looking his powerful best up front, Chelsea scored three fine goals in the first half through Pedro, Costa and Cesar Azpilicueta. Such was the quality of the visitors’ play at times, it made a mockery of those who had suggested they were already out of the title race.
But even Mourinho, a veiled dig at Clattenburg’s performance aside, conceded there is much improvement required from his side, who are now five points off leaders Manchester City.
“If we are happy with the start to the season, we are ready to go home,” he said. “The performance was not bad but four points in three matches is not enough.”
The arrival of Pogba — and Stones for that matter — would help improve that statistic.
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