Date:Thursday August 21 2014
Last summer Andre Schurrle joined Chelsea for a fee of over £20 million.
This was a transfer that left many Chelsea fans wondering why we paid so much for a player who wasn`t a big name. The problem with ignorance is that it often combines with dismissive arrogance. This was a player we were targeting for 3 summers straight and we finally landed our man in the end. What this tells us is that there was a lot of positive feedback from the scouting network over a consistent period of time (always a good sign). I for one was very happy to see the German sign. Our scouts liked him, our decision-makers liked him and I having watched him for a long time liked him - and there are reasons for this.
Andre is a player with an interesting profile. Originally a centre forward at the youth levels Andre spent the major part of his Leverkusen career as an auxiliary forward on either side of Stefan Kiessling. This was a crucial part of his development phase and shaped the player he is today.
Due his propensity to wear the number 9 if available and because of his time as a centre forward in the youth levels there are often calls for him to play the number 9 role especially last year when our striking trio were abysmal. However Andre isn`t your number 9 and playing him in such a role would grossly do his strengths as special player disservice.
Let us analyse why.
The German international is a 'Luftwaffe squadron leader'. He is the air force of your team that strikes with the element of surprise. One must commend the remarkable amount of fitness he has but more than that I like Andre's footballing brain. There are plenty of wide forwards who possess speed and the ability to strike. In the Premiership there are players like Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon who used to play the same role for their respective teams. But none of them have the sheer intelligence and cunning Schurrle possesses. What Schurrle specializes in his understanding of his role in the set- up.
No he isn`t the silkiest of players who will do step-overs and dribble past players. Nor will he try fancy moves on the pitch. In terms of intelligence and determination though he is a lot like Frank Lampard was. Except that Frank operated from the midfield and Andre operates from the wing.
Let us analyze how.
Why isn`t he a lone forward?
Being a lone forward requires certain traits. Andre is an 'ice cold' finisher and can strike from anywhere on the pitch. Apart from his marksman like finishing what impresses you is his range. If there is one player who can score from 35 yards out in our squad its Schurrle. He averaged the highest in the Bundesliga in terms of 'average distance of shot per goal'. He is also a very, very direct player who doesn`t mess on. He will take on defenders and look for the shot or pass.
But he needs a reference point. Why i made the analogy with Lampard is for a very simple reason. Lampard consistently scored 20 goals a season for Chelsea. But would any of us play him at the number 9 role? Off course not.
A look at Lampard :-
There was once an experiment by Carlo to try Lampard out as the tip of a midfield diamond in the old 'Joe Cole role'. Lampard's scoring rate fell down alarmingly. And it wasn`t due to lack of form. It`s because we took away the element of surprise in Lampard's game. Frank wasn`t an excellent dribbler of the ball or a show pony but he was impossible to mark despite not being a silky player.
This was because Lampard played the role of a 'stealth bomber'. Lampard's run started from the halfway line completely out of the radar of all 4 opposition defenders. Drogba's presence occupied both the central defenders much like Costa will now. Chelsea's wingers kept opposition fullbacks busy. So how do you mark Lampard out. Mark him using a DM right? Nope. Because Lampard 'chose the time and location of his battles' he was very hard to pickup. A number 10 playing in the hole can be marked because he is loitering around the opposition box right in front of your eyes. You can mark what is near you, what you can see in flesh.
But Lampard started his run from the half way line. 80% of the time he isn`t near your box with a 'mark me' target on his back. Instead he chooses when to make the run by sheer intuition and intelligence. So if you are a DM who has to mark him how do you do it? Following him will mean being dragged out of position woefully and completely destroying your team shape. Waiting for his run is also not an option because you never know when he will make it. Many of Fank's runs weren`t 'runs' per se. He never started from the halfway line in full throttle nor did he blow a trumpet as he ran in. often he used to walk/jog/amble over to the 30 yard zone and actively be more interested in the build-up play than getting forward. Then pass the ball to a wide-man or watch one his team mates pass the ball to a wide-man. Sometimes Frank ambled around and a long ball was played to Drogba.
Then the predatory instinct took over. Frank has the exceptional ability to be 'the most famous player you forgot on the pitch'. even though opposition players were well aware of Frank's reputation and his prowess and tried to keep an eye on him Frank would go into the shadows at will as Drogba, Essien, the wingers, the full-backs grabbed attention and dragged players to them by their attraction of a threat. Then 'forgotten Frank' who was ambling and jogging around swings into action silently. Surveying the weakest spot in the defence and holes in it- Frank targeted these areas. Meanwhile his mind rapidly calculated the balance of probabilities on where the ball would likely end up or the best places to ask for the ball.
As he reached the zone the Chelsea players looked for him and made the pass whether it was Drogba chesting the ball or a winger squaring it or dragging it back to him. With an ice cold finish developed over years of sheer hardwork and repetition Frank would almost always slot the ball home.
Coming back to Schurrle -
Similar to the 'Frank at diamond tip' experiment that failed Jose in his desperation tried to employ Schurrle at number 9 during various points of the season. It didn`t work.
a - Andre's hold up play wasn`t that of a centre forward. He was being pushed off the ball. Last year Mourinho ordered Andre extra training in the gym to improve his upper body strength.
b - He lost the element of surprise with the opposition centre-backs right in front of him.
c - He couldn`t make a 'run' because - how do you make a run undetected when everyone is watching you.
d - His shooting from range or close quarters was stifled because tight marking meant he got very little time to get his shot away.
Schurrle as a wide forward -
Schurrle as a wide forward is a very, very different beast though. First of all he doubles or triples up in a variety of roles:-
*Defensive winger- intense work-rate. The German mindset to work selflessly and tirelessly with great discipline mentally combined with a fitness level to match it.
*Offensive winger- when he wants to he can cross the ball either from his left foot (Goetze's World Cup winning goal) or the right foot as he did a few times last season only to see our forwards waste it.
*Wide-man - he can hug the touchline if need be.
*Inside-forward - especially when playing on the left at Leverkusen he showed the ability to cut in and take a shot away. But when played on the right he can do just the same as he did against Fulham as his 'so-called-weaker-foot' can shoot just as well.
*Auxillary forward - the Chelsea attacking band rotates a lot and is designed on free movement. Schurrle can play as a second striker from behind the number 9 as well feeding of scraps for a few minutes every now and then.
But if you will notice all these roles require two things -
1 - A number 9 as his reference point.
2 - A CAM or DLP who feeds him and spots his runs.
The number 9 takes away the attention. A good number 9 like Costa will keep both the centre- backs occupied. This is where Schurrle's footballing intelligence kicks in. he sense a run. He primarily targets two lanes -
a - The space between the centre-back and the fullback.
b - Behind the defense from the outside channel i.e between the fullback and the touchline in a semi circular run.
He does this when you least expect it. The final piece of the jigsaw is the DLP Cesc Fabregas who spots his run before anyone in the stadium does and either -
a - Plays the long ball into his path (the first Chelsea chance vs Burnley in the first few minutes)
b - Slides it in (Hazard from a deeper area vs Fulham)
c - The chip from close quarters (Schurrle's goal vs Burnley)
* It's not necessary that Schurrle only depends on Cesc or the number 10. One of his goals against Fulham last year was so simple. Cech kicked the ball. Torres won the header and put onto Schurrle's path. Andre had already sensed a chance and began his run long before the ball even reached Torres's head. Now last season none of our forwards had an incredibly high rate of winning the ball in the air and Torres winning it that day was an exception rather than a norm. With DC19 and DD11 our strikers are now going to win aerial battles more often than not and knock it or chest it onto the path of the onrushing Schurrle and BOOM.
* The Chelsea full-back can afford to push up on the side Schurrle plays because Schurrle tracks back and covers for the fullback. But our full-back also takes the attention of the opposition full-back and opens up the lane in between the full-back and centre-back (who DC19/DD11 are keeping busy) and eases the unexpected and unmarked run of Schurrle. Andre's ice cool finishing if someone plays him the ball takes care of the rest.
Andre is a keeper. He recently in unequivocal terms denied the chance to move to Atletico Madrid. A big reason for this is that he grew up falling in love with Chelsea, his hero Michael Ballack signed for us and ever since then Andre was hooked on to watching the blues. If there is a player who will fight for the shirt and not moan when not getting starts its Andre. He wasn`t the first name on the clean sheet last year as he was still getting acclimatized to life in London and specifically to Mourinho's tactics. Andre genuinely believes in Mourinho and has time and again shown the willingness to work on himself to become a better player.
At the pre-World Cup training camp Jogi Leow couldn`t help but gush on how much Schurrle has improved both the physical and mental side of his game after a year under Jose. Oliver Kahn summed it up by saying that Jose is the greatest manager after Ferguson and he is really impressed by how he improved German players like Khedira, Ozil and most recently Schurrle. Like Lampard, Schurrle believes in working hard and improving daily to force himself into the plans of the manager. There was a promo by starsports in India glorifying Ozil for being the force behind Germany's World Cup win- which made me laugh a little because Mesut was one of the underperformers of the WC. The real force was Andre who played the role of the super sub and consistently gave Germany the edge every time he came on.
To sum it up what I see in Schurrle is a wide forward who can score 20 goals a season when he reaches his potential and from all signs so far I believe he will get there. The raw material, work ethic, attitude, determination and spirit are there. In Mourinho he has the coach who appreciates him and will guide him reach his full potential. At the Bridge Andre has found a stadium he can call home and fans who he really cares about and wants to give it his all for.
Watch out for Schurrle. He is going to make it big.
(Hey! You can now follow me saber on twitter for a more interactive experience. My handle is @partha12)
Date:Thursday August 21 2014
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