The Best Stop-Gap Striker In Football?

Last summer Jose Mourinho had a choice between buying an unknown quantity and bringing in the ageing but largely unerring Samuel Eto'o. A masterstroke?

Last Updated: 18/03/14 at 21:34 Post Comment

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In a week when we have all been unwilling voyeurs to the love-making (purely in the Jane Austen sense) of Jose Mourinho and Didier Drogba, the Chelsea manager was asked whether Drogba at his peak is what the Blues are missing this season. He replied in the affirmative but within four minutes of the opening whistle against Galatasaray, Samuel Eto'o reminded his manager that he still has a striker who can help him win the league.

When a summer move for Wayne Rooney failed, Eto'o was Mourinho's stop-gap striker of choice. Rather than spending £15-20m on a half-decent striker unproven at the highest level, Mourinho decided to spend nothing on an excellent and instinctive goalscorer with pedigree who may only be available half the time. Pick and choose the games and Eto'o would deliver - recent goals have come against Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Galatasaray. He may only end the season with 15 goals (he now has ten) but the majority will have been vital.

Once again at Stamford Bridge (the venue for all Eto'o's Chelsea goals) against their disappointing Turkish opposition, Eto'o judged his run to perfection, benefited from fine interplay between Eden Hazard and Oscar, took one touch and then hit the ball hard and low. It felt like we had seen that goal dozens of times before in the colours of Barcelona, Inter Milan and now Chelsea. When Mourinho brought in Eto'o as his stop-gap striker, he knew he was probably bringing in 12-15 such unerring finishes.

A truly excellent goalscorer will expect to hit the target with every other shot; this season in the Premier League, Sergio Aguero has exactly hit that benchmark, Luis Suarez is not far behind (one in every 2.15), Wayne Rooney is further behind (one in every 2.47) and Olivier Giroud is somewhere over the rainbow (one in 3.19). Eto'o's record stands at one in 2.27, proving that age has not dimmed his ability to shoot sharply. His hat-trick against Manchester United in January came from just four shots.

In that sense Eto'o has been the perfect stop-gap striker for Chelsea, who create far fewer clear-cut chances than their title rivals. Opta - who use the phrase 'clear-cut chance' when the rest of us would use 'sitter' - calculate that Chelsea have created 37 such chances in league games this season, which compares very unfavourably with Liverpool (67), Manchester City (61) and Arsenal (50). If you create so few sitters, you have to be sure that your striker does not miss the chair and fall down.

If Chelsea win the title without a striker in double figures for Premier League goals, it will be a remarkable achievement built on stout defending, organisation, Eden Hazard and sheer bloody-mindedness. Oh and the enduring dead-eye of a very classy old man.

Sarah Winterburn

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