Villas-Boas: I see Sturridge as a winger
Andre Villas-Boas has insisted Chelsea do not need to play Daniel Sturridge at centre-forward to help them arrest their alarming slump. Sturridge's performances have been one of few positives for the Blues during the poor run of results that has piled the pressure on new manager Villas-Boas in recent weeks.
Sturridge is the club's joint top scorer this season on seven goals, despite playing almost exclusively on the right of a three-man attack. Indeed, he has netted as many times as Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Romelu Lukaku combined, the four forwards Villas-Boas has entrusted to spearhead the attack this season.
The Chelsea boss explained his plans to Sturridge after taking charge during the summer but that has not prevented the 22-year-old repeatedly declaring his desire to occupy a more central role, most recently after making his England debut in last month's friendly win over Sweden. Yet, Villas-Boas said ahead of tomorrow's Premier League game at Newcastle: "There is no purpose in using Daniel up front.
"Our conversation at the beginning of the season was that we saw his potential on the wings - not only myself but also (Fabio) Capello and (former Chelsea manager Carlo) Ancelotti. We know he likes the striker position. It doesn't mean that he cannot perform it to the best and, if needs be, we will use him. But he will be here with us always counting most likely as a right winger."
Villas-Boas' stubbornness may stem more from a lack of suitable options in the position Sturridge currently occupies than a reluctance to play him in his preferred role. The Portuguese likes his wide attackers to come inside onto their stronger foot, with the right-sided Juan Mata playing down the left, and the left-sided Sturridge down the right.
That is in contrast to Ancelotti, who preferred the right-footed Anelka or Salomon Kalou down the right, with the left-footed Florent Malouda on the opposite flank. Malouda appears far more comfortable down the left-hand side, having not been tried at all down the right this season.
It seems certain Sturridge and Mata will flank Drogba at St James' Park tomorrow after Torres' flopped on his return to the starting line-up in Tuesday's League Cup defeat to Liverpool. That was Villas-Boas' latest loss to a top team since his appointment as manager. Indeed, Chelsea have been beaten in all four matches they have played this season against other sides in the Premier League top seven. "Our form at the moment with the top teams has not been good enough," Villas-Boas said. "We've still yet to play three of them. So that still might give us a chance."
Chelsea face two of the remaining three in their next two top-flight games, with leaders Manchester City following tomorrow's Newcastle clash. The Blues need a victory to climb above their opponents and back into the top four but after losing five and winning just two of their last nine games, they are hardly in the kind of form to beat Alan Pardew's men, whose only league defeat this season came at City.
Villas-Boas said: "Pardew has set an excellent standard for what he is doing, he is doing an excellent job and he also bought stability to Newcastle and a sense of serenity. Plus, there is a city behind the football club, and there's a sense of empathy with the city and the club. So it's a major football club that finds itself in an excellent position, fully motivated, so an excellent challenge for us."
Having lost several of their big-name players during 2011, Newcastle have been the surprise package of the season. Villas-Boas added: "They went into a good run, a fantastic run, and I think they gained confidence and even more inner-belief to continue further and I think that's what they are doing at the moment."