Football: Chelsea strikers may need a new approach

  • @stevetongue
THE MOST striking aspect of Chelsea's performances continues to be the failure of their strikers to do any striking. Dan Petrescu's winning goal against the 10 men of Galatasaray on Tuesday ensured a warm glow around Stamford Bridge as hopes of qualifying for the second stage of the Champions' League were rekindled, but it could not obscure a depressing sequence for the club's forwards.

Tore Andre Flo and Gianfranco Zola have scored once each this season, in the opening day's 4-0 romp against Sunderland. Four days later, Chris Sutton drove in his first goal for the club, against Skonto Riga, since when no striker has hit the target in 10 games, or 15 hours of football.

Naturally enough for a team that normally has such an abundant share of possession, they have been close from time to time: Zola, for instance, has hit the same Stamford Bridge post in the two home European ties against Milan and now Galatasaray. The little Italian, however, has only ever been what his countrymen call a "half-forward", rather than a true centre- forward in the style of Flo or Sutton. It is the form of this pair that may be causing Gianluca Vialli to regret the loss through retirement of a player who chipped in with 10 goals last season called, er, Gianluca Vialli.

"Hopefully we'll be more clinical in future," the manager said on Tuesday night. "We've got to score more." He might be interested in his countryman's theory: "Vialli asks strikers to work so hard and sometimes when you get a one-on-one with the keeper, you're too tired," said Zola, who as well as taking most of the set-pieces, also finds himself linking between defence and attack. If the present drought continues much longer, it might well be worth trying him as a free man behind two strikers.

That is the role adopted by Gheorghe Hagi for Galatasaray, who until their experienced Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel got himself sent off after only 32 minutes, were much the more impressive attacking force. In Hakan Sukur, the top scorer in the Turkish league for the past three seasons, and Arif Erdem, who claimed a hat-trick against Northern Ireland recently, they have a formidable pair capable of making life uncomfortable for Chelsea again in Istanbul, where few visiting teams enjoy themselves. After his litany of complaints about their treatment in London, Galatasaray's manager, Fatih Terim, might just have had tongue in cheek when he said: "Turkey is a very hospitable nation and we welcome all our guests." Welcome them to hell, in the words of their supporters' banners.

Chelsea, one point behind joint leaders, Milan and Hertha, who drew 1- 1 on Tuesday, cannot afford to lose in Istanbul and, after visiting Milan, will almost certainly need to win the final match at home to Hertha. In the meantime, there is the little matter of Premiership fixtures with Manchester United and Liverpool for those strikers to find their feet and range.