Chelsea's strikers were held behind for some extra shooting practice yesterday and, given the champions' recent lack of firepower, it was little wonder their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, had put them in detention.
The club that set a Premier League record last season with 103 goals in 38 games are suffering a crisis in front of goal. Chelsea have managed just one goal in their past four league games, in which they have taken three points from a possible 12.
The champions' goal drought has been the most startling aspect of their current loss of form, especially given that the attack is the one area of the team that has not been struck by injuries. The loss of John Terry and Alex has been felt in defence, while Frank Lampard's three-month absence has left the midfield looking under-powered. Up front, however, all the strikers are fit, although Didier Drogba is playing on despite suffering from malaria.
The loss of Lampard's goals from midfield – he scored 27 last season – tells just part of the story. He also created more goals than anyone else, and without him Chelsea are looking toothless. They began the season on fire, with 21 goals from their first five games. But Lampard has been out since late August and the side has suffered as a result.
Ancelotti said: "The problem is on the pitch because, this season, we shot 200 times on the goal. The first 100 shots we had, 21 per cent of chances were converted into goals. The last 100 shots we had just 5 per cent converted. This is the reason we have to stay more focused and have more concentration on shooting, because the players in the team have not changed. We have to work on this."
The strikers should get further shooting practice tonight against Champions League whipping boys MSK Zilina, who lost 7-0 at home to Marseilles in their last match. Chelsea have already qualified for the knockout stages, and Ancelotti will give 17-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran the first start of his career in a young team that will include Jeffrey Bruma (18) and probably Patrick van Aanholt (19) and Gaël Kakuta (19). McEachran is Chelsea's brightest prospect for some time, and made his England Under-21 debut as an 87th-minute substitute in last week's 2-0 defeat to Germany.
The 17-year-old from Oxfordshire played 11 minutes in the 4-1 victory over MSK Zilina in September and also got a run-out as a substitute in Chelsea's 2-0 win at Spartak Moscow last month.
"It is the time for McEachran to play," Ancelotti said. "He's shown a good attitude and personality. It's a good moment for him. It's the time for him to have his chance."