On Wednesday, as expected, Chelsea wrapped up the signing of Brazilian winger Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala for $45 million.
The 25-year-old winger signed a five-year deal at Stamford Bridge following a successful work permit hearing, after he turned down advances from both Liverpool and Tottenham to link up with José Mourinho.
Mourinho is delighted with the capture of a speedy winger who likes to attack down the flanks and cut balls back to his fellow attackers. But will Willian have plenty of Chelsea men alongside him when he makes those foraging runs during his Blues career?
On Monday night at Old Trafford, Mourinho sprung a huge surprise against Manchester United as he didn’t start with a recognized striker. Looks of disbelief and intrigue filled the press box in Manchester as Mourinho played more mind games.
Was he trying to confuse Moyes or putting pressure on Russian owner Roman Abramovich to give him more cash to buy a top striker before the end of the transfer window? Whatever he was playing at, the gameplan worked and Chelsea left the home of the reigning champions with a valuable point after not being tested defensively for much of the 90 minutes.
That said, it wasn’t like they carved United open either. A midfield battle ensued as Mourinho deployed a 4-2-4 formation that stopped United’s full-backs, Phil Jones and Patrice Evra, getting involved from the flanks and stifled any attacking creativity the Red Devils tried to get going.
Yet, this decision to play Andre Schurrle in the “false nine” role could have just been a one-off especially now that Willian has joined. In order to get the best out of his expensive new attacker, Mourinho needs to revert to a more rigid 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. However with Fernando Torres on the bench alongside Romelu Lukaku on Monday and Demba Ba left in London, do those three players possess the required firepower to bring trophies to Stamford Bridge?
Mourinho doesn’t think so. That’s why he allowed Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Schurrle to interchange as the game went on and the flexibility amongst his attackers was crucial to the success of this Barcelona-esque shape. Okay, Chelsea set up an extremely defensive version of the “false nine” made famous in Catalonia but Mourinho was making a point: he wants a new striker and he wants one now.
So where does Willian fit into all this?
Well, he will be the main supply line from the flanks for whoever Mourinho decides to play in the central role. But the Brazilian attacker can also defend and play a similar role to De Bruyne against United, which will leave Moruinho with plenty of options out wide. The chances of Wayne Rooney joining Chelsea between now and Monday are pretty slim and if that fails Samuel Eto’o is lined up as plan B, to join Willian in an Anzhi to Chelsea convoy.
Yet Eto’o may not be able to play the lone forward role Mourinho would have favored in the past during his first-spell at Chelsea. Didier Drogba held the ball up and brought others into play before spreading the ball wide and finishing off crosses. The second incarnation of Mourinho’s Chelsea is a more subtle version, a side that caresses the ball with great care and intricacy around the box before slotting home from central areas. Oscar, Ramires, Hazard and De Bruyne love to weave forward and entice defenders into making mistakes in and around the box.
Willian will fit in very well with that style at Chelsea but he needs a target man to aim for in the box and Chelsea need a focal point of their attack. Will Mourinho decide to go with one of the three strikers he has? Buy a new one? Or deploy a “false striker” to confuse the opposition?
The “false nine” worked for Chelsea from a defensive standpoint and in terms of keeping the ball. But will it be Chelsea’s go-to formation this season?
Maybe the “false nine” will work as the kinks are worked out over the season, or maybe it should be shelved. Either way, Mourinho has got us guessing. Once again.