Chelsea’s No 9 problem isn’t going away – ignominy for Aubameyang highlights it

Chelsea must fear that the No 9’s curse has struck again.

When Chelsea signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona on deadline day last summer, they brought him in to replace a central midfielder who didn’t touch the ball, let alone score goals, in Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgian footballer, who is currently on loan at Inter Milan, struggled to adapt to Chelsea’s culture and was not satisfied with it during an unofficial interview with Sky Sport Italia.

That event overshadowed Chelsea’s first home game of 2022, a high-profile fixture against Liverpool. Lukaku was left out of the squad as punishment by coach Thomas Tuchel and while he has publicly apologised, the damage has been done.

Here we are 12 months later and it’s Aubameyang’s turn to be the talking point for the wrong reasons following Chelsea’s home run of the calendar year.

Aubameyang didn’t make his anger known to the media the way Lukaku did, but his anger was evident to see him suffer the humiliation of being replaced by coach Graham Potter in the 68th minute after coming on as a substitute during the 1- 0 to Manchester City.

When Aubameyang’s number was raised by the fourth official, the 33-year-old shook his head in disbelief more than once and admitted that Potter walked past him to take his place in the box.

Aubameyang will not be the last player to react to this scenario in this way. It is one of the most embarrassing things to happen to football. But he revealed his heartbreak.

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Potter did his best to downplay the incident, saying: “Players want to stay on the field and influence the game. It’s normal practice.” However, what is not in doubt is Aubameyang’s form, and his lack of it, which is a big problem.

The former Arsenal captain has gone 10 matches without a goal for Chelsea. He has found the net three times for the club. That run came back in October against Crystal Palace and two matches against AC Milan.

More worryingly, it doesn’t seem to end the drought. It’s not as if you’re missing life after life. While on the pitch against City, he registered no shots and had one touch (of 14 in total) in the opposition penalty area.

That has been matched by his run of eight games without a goal in the Premier League. He mustered just five efforts on target in total during those games with only two of those strikes on target – one in the draw at Brentford and another in the loss at Brighton.

As Lukaku showed in a Chelsea shirt, the added problem with Aubameyang is that when he doesn’t score, it’s hard to see what else he contributes. The former, released by Arsenal last January, was not involved in the general game enough. This was demonstrated when he touched the ball eight times during the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in November. That was the last time Potter was named in the first XI.

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In the next five games, Armando Broja, out for the season with a knee injury, has led the line twice and more tellingly, Kai Havertz has been Potter’s favorite option in the last three.

Potter made a point to highlight what special qualities Havertz brings to the role after scoring against Bournemouth last week. The comments seem to matter as far as Aubameyang’s position is concerned. He said: “As a nine, he (Havertz) gives you flexibility and change in the game. He can throw but he can also threaten the back line and can score. So I like him in that situation.

“With the time we have, we have to catch up on a few things. It’s nice to get that clarity (on condition), but sometimes it’s not possible. The players have a lot in terms of their abilities so they can play in a few positions. And Kai is one of them.

“I have to make a decision (selection of the team) based on what I think every day in training and Kai scoring goals and playing for the German national team, and looking at his goal record there, it’s a famous level . Every time he plays there, he manages to score and he also contributes to the team.”

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Tuchel spoke about how Chelsea players were reluctant to wear the No 9 shirt because of all the players who struggled to wear it before. As well as Lukaku, other big strikers who are seen as formidable include Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain.

Where to go next Athletes

It is to Aubameyang’s credit that he showed the confidence that others did not have to get the number. Right after signing he announced: “I have unfinished business in the Premier League.”

Aubameyang will still have more opportunities to play this season regardless of his pique fit, but it looks like he will be as a back-up to Havertz. That would be hard for him to accept.

What happened from there is open to debate. Chelsea, who hesitated to buy a few days before the end of the contract (they paid €11.5million, with Marcos Alonso going to Barcelona for free), gave him a two-year contract with an option of another 12 months.

They have agreed terms with RB Leipzig to sign Christopher Nkunku in the summer. They have added David Datro Fofana from Molde this month and are looking at other targets to strengthen the attack.

Fofana arrives from Molde (Photo: Maria Jose Segovia/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea’s lack of goals is one of the reasons why they are in tenth place in the Premier League. They have scored 20 times in 17 matches, the 12th-best record in the top division. Even Leeds United and Leicester City struggle more.

In Chelsea defenders and Aubameyang, the number of injury problems they have suffered this season has meant that the best XI is not on the pitch and has prevented any rhythm or understanding from developing. Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic joined the list of 10 absentees after early departures against City, with Mason Mount suffering a knock in training the day before.

“It’s one of those things at the moment,” Potter said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it and I don’t want to experience it here. But it is what it is, I just have to keep going.

“Obviously, hope is where it’s at. You want to be here, have all your players, a fully fit team, and be able to compete. It is sad for everyone at this time. “

But no one is more angry at the way things are going than Aubameyang.

(Top photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)


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