It’s an odd life as a squad player under Jose Mourinho. Having made just 27 appearances last season (17 as substitute), and yet still playing a decisive role in a Premier League-winning campaign with nine goals, Loïc Rémy will know this more than most.
Everyone knows the manager has his favourites, and as such prefers a small core squad of around 18, with eight or nine at least likely to be considered amongst his ‘untouchables’. The reason for this is Mourinho’s love of systems.
Despite his famed tactical acumen and willingness to adapt in order to get a result in any situation - witness the deployment of an inexperienced yet willing and disciplined Kurt Zouma in defensive midfield role vs Spurs at Wembley and days later in a crucial victory at West Ham - the personnel rarely changes, and is always inclusive of those players Mourinho trusts most.
Despite playing crucial parts at times, notably at home versus Manchester City following Diego Costa’s ‘crimes’ (copyright: Sky Sports) and from the bench at Hull after an early two-goal lead had been surrendered, too often Rémy found himself beneath Didier Drogba in the pecking order when Costa was ruled out by injury or suspension.
Having stepped in to replace the injured Costa in consecutive games versus Crystal Palace and Maribor early in the season, a groin injury picked up in scoring against the latter ruled Rémy our for three weeks and so began a stop-start season for the French International.
The run in was famously negotiated in what most would have us believe is Mourinho’s favoured style - wars of attrition as Chelsea secured the title with a run of nine wins in 12 games, eight of which were secured by single goal margins. With Costa missing for the majority of these games, Rémy, at 28, should have been perfectly poised to step in and offer Mourinho’s battle-weary team a much needed injection of pace and poise.
As it was, Rémy, despite his significant contributions, missed most of them through a combination of injury and lack of trust from his manager.
Drogba, of course, has done more than just about anyone to earn Mourinho’s trust, and is better suited that the French international to the role of lone centre forward, but he lacks Rémy’s ability to run in behind, nor can he match Rémy’s energy. The sight of the old warrior working his way through 90 minutes of toil, sweat and not a whole lot else against Manchester United and QPR, in particular, as the Blues closed in on their first title in five years was uncomfortable viewing.
At almost a decade younger than Drogba, this was Rémy’s time to prove himself, but although he scored some key goals, he failed to make a major impact to Chelsea’s overall play, and this will grate with the manager. Whatever happens this season, Diego Costa will remain the first choice by some distance.
Costa’s style of play will guarantee a few games missed per season to injuries and suspension (he made only 24 league appearances in 2014/15), but his thoroughbred qualities make him worth the risk, and the backup options need to be fit and able to work to Mourinho’s systems.
If Rémy is going to stick around and be seen as a better back-up option than Radamel Falcao, he’ll need to show willing to adapt to Mourinho’s requirements that the team defend from the front, and offer better link up play with the three attacking midfielders that form such a potent threat behind the one central striker.
The goal against City, started and ended by Rémy in a brilliant blur of attacking movement, showed his potential as an attacking threat - raw pace and finishing are two of his stand out strengths and are certainly more enticing than what previous attacking back-up options have given the team.
The fans seem to have warmed to Rémy, but pre-season has been littered with talk of a move away from the Bridge. Much will probably depend on his willingness to stick around and fight for his role when a starting berth will likely be more readily offered if he drops down a level.
This is probably Rémy’s last chance to play a key role at a club with the size and ambition of Chelsea, and the fans will hope the bright glimpses seen in the 2014/15 season will be built upon yet further. It’s difficult to imagine a better player being willing to chip in as second or third choice, and hopefully we’re able to talk about Rémy’s contributions for next season in a similar light to what he achieved in his opening act.
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