Back about a year ago, as José Mourinho was still assessing the Chelsea squad in his first season back, the Portuguese called over André Schürrle for what was already becoming a regular chat. Mourinho again instructed the German that he “needed to change”, both his game and his body, to offer more energy.
“I’ve really worked very hard to be aggressive, to be in a good shape with my body,” Schürrle said at the time. “I did a lot in the gym. Now I’m ready to play more often.” The latter never quite happened, and that’s possibly because Mourinho wasn’t satisfied with the former. Certainly, the issue of whether Schürrle strengthened enough as a player is central to one of the big questions from the January transfer window, whether Chelsea themselves have strengthened by effectively replacing the German with Colombian Juan Cuadrado.
It was around the same time as Mourinho was having these chats with Schürrle that the attacker perfectly illustrated the big thing that Chelsea will miss now he's gone to Wolfsburg. At the end of February 2014, Schürrle hit a hat-trick away to Fulham that left the Portuguese coach praising his “cold bold in front of goal”.
The German is certainly much more clinical than Cuadrado, as has been repeatedly proven. The former Fiorentina player shoots much more than Schürrle but scores much less frequently, with the latter hitting goal every 7 shots compared to Cuadrado's 13.
The only issue is that this is basically the only thing that Schürrle has over Cuadrado. It also points to the curiosity of the German’s brief time at Stamford Bridge. He was responsible for some big strikes - not least away to Manchester City in September - and had an impressive nose for goal, but didn’t actually offer that much in general play beyond pace.
Cuadrado himself has been inconsistent throughout his career but still trumps Schürrle in almost every other area. In that regard, when you consider the key characteristics of Mourinho’s career, the decision is at least more understandable. Schürrle effectively became one of those players at Chelsea where there was a risk-benefit analysis to be made when you played him. He was capable of acting on the rarest of chances, but keeping him in the team often meant less creativity as a whole. In other words, he didn’t offer too much other than mere goals.
Mourinho has never been a manager to indulge individuals in such a way, and usually demands they submit to the team ethic. Any exceptions must be devastating, such as Deco at Porto, Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Inter, and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Schürrle doesn’t compare to any of those three, and frequently fades in comparison to Cuadrado too.
Basically, the Colombian offers so much more in general play, as well as an element of the wild-card that Chelsea have been missing. Enticingly, as can be seen from his devastating dribbling stats - 2.5 a game and more successful runs than any other Serie A player in the last five years - Mourinho’s side could suddenly become a blur of blue, especially with Cuadrado searing down one wing and Eden Hazard the other. The former Fiorentina winger offers so much more penetration in terms of possession, offering a key pass every 40.3 minutes this season, compared to Schürrle’s 72.2.
Then there are the staggering amount of times that Cuadrado is taken down. At 5.1 times per game, he is the second most fouled player in Europe this season. Schürrle just doesn’t compare, even when he’s regularly starting. That alone indicates just how involved Cuadrado is, except there is more. There is also the amount of fouling he does, at 1.4 a game.
This is key to Cuadrado’s signature: his defensive work. If Schürrle has offered more tackles per game this season, that is one stat that feels little more than a coincidence of recent positioning, or part of a bit of a drop-down for the Colombian since the World Cup. Basically, he’s much more adept at defensive work, as his versatility proves. Cuadrado can play in eight different positions, including the centre, and this could be crucial in solving what has been Chelsea’s one remaining big problem this season.
Mourinho’s side have often struggled when playing just Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fàbregas in a two-man midfield against the better sides, since the Spaniard’s play often leaves them a bit too open. Cuadrado can tuck inside when Chelsea don’t have the ball, meaning they would have more midfield congestion in a way they simply lack when it is Willian or Schürrle in the same position.
Basically, the Colombian will help them bulk up. Whatever about his own body, that was something Schürrle was always going to struggle with. His sale means Chelsea lose a source of goals but, if it was necessary to bring in the player to help them block a route to their goal while also adding creativity, it is probably worth it.
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