It was hard to watch Chelsea in their first game of the new Jose Mourinho era and not ask yourself the question: what effect would Wayne Rooney have on this team?
Early days yet but it has been obvious for a long time that with a centre-forward capable of scoring 25 league goals a season, this would be a team difficult to stop.
Robin Van Persie scored 26 for United on their way to being champions last season. Rooney chipped in with 12. Fernando Torres managed eight, which was less than Romelu Lukaku on loan at West Bromwich Albion (17), Frank Lampard from midfield (15) and Eden Hazard (nine).
Chelsea need a prolific goalscorer. They had hoped it might be Radamel Falcao, who chose Monaco, but since the tail-end of last season they have placed their faith in prising Rooney away from the last two years of his United contract. On the day that they were finally forced to confirm their interest – and a bid for the player – Mourinho’s first Chelsea team of the new era took to the field in a very humid Bangkok.
In the first half he played Lukaku as the lead striker and the 20-year-old converted a penalty won by the exuberant Brazilian right-back Wallace Oliveira Dos Santos. Wallace, making his debut for Chelsea, will go on loan this coming season, most likely to Roma, in the hope that he will qualify for a work permit in the next year.
In the second half, it was Demba Ba who replaced Lukaku, and Ba is one of two, along with Torres, who will be vulnerable should Rooney join. In his best season for goalscoring, the 2011-2012 campaign, Rooney scored 27 goals, one more than he managed in 2009-2010. If he can recapture that kind of form for Chelsea he will be exactly what they need, although it should be pointed out that in his other seven seasons at the club he has scored no more than 16 in any one campaign.
Mourinho’s stand-out player in very stifling conditions was André Schürrle, whose first-half running at the right-back suggested that he will give Chelsea something of the power and adventurousness on the flanks that they had nine years ago. Schürrle likes to commit the full-back and seems like the kind of player that Mourinho will favour.
The Chelsea manager gave opportunities to Lucas Piazon, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard in that No 10 role for which he will have so many options. Hazard, a second-half substitute, looked a different class to the rest of his team-mates on the occasions that he exerted himself.
With the wealth of attacking options that Mourinho has in the three attacking midfield positions – Juan Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Schürrle, Victor Moses and De Bruyne – there is the potential to provide the centre-forward whom Chelsea sign in this transfer window great service. Rooney has been told that at United he will be regarded as Van Persie’s reserve. At Chelsea he would be able to take advantage of all that talent behind him.
Yet if he did finally make the move there would be no hiding place. After Torres, and Andrei Shevchenko before him, Chelsea cannot risk another expensive centre-forward who does not come up with goals in substantial quantities.
Chelsea line-up: Room for Rooney?
* Chelsea have preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent seasons and yesterday’s friendly indicated Jose Mourinho may maintain the shape. That would limit options for Wayne Rooney up front – although the England international has led the line on his own in the past. Rooney has also helped in midfield for Manchester United in recent years, though Chelsea are overloaded in that area.
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