Questions have been asked as to whether Chelsea's summer signing from Anzhi Makhachkala, Samuel Eto'o, is past his best. Has the 32-year-old lost his trademark pace? Is he no longer the lethal striker who won three UEFA Champions League titles in a combination of his time with Barcelona and Inter Milan?
Eto'o has not set the world alight in his four games since joining Chelsea on a one-year deal. He has failed to score in starts against Everton, Basel and Fulham or as an early substitute for the now-injured Fernando Torres at Steaua Bucharest on Tuesday night.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have also lost 50 per cent of those games in all competitions in which Eto'o has been involved while his passing accuracy of just 65.62% and shooting accuracy of 50% in his 154 minutes of Premier League action is less than impressive.
Ahead of Sunday's game at Norwich City, when Eto'o will likely be Chelsea's only real striking option, there will be a nagging suspicion he could be set to follow the trend of the likes of Hernan Crespo, Andriy Shevchenko, Mateja Kezman or even £50million Torres in arriving at Stamford Bridge with a great reputation only to flop in London. With Torres injured until after the international break, Romelu Lukaku on fire in a season-long loan at Everton, and Demba Ba seemingly out-of-favour having made only three appearances this season, this is a big worry for Chelsea.
But Eto'o's Champions League statistics are a reason to be encouraged. He has had six shots with an accuracy of 80% in a combined total of 169 minutes playing time against minnows Basel, who stunned Chelsea by winning in England on Matchday One, and the woeful Steaua. Eto'o's passing statistics are also better in Europe after an accuracy of 84%.
This could be an indication of the age-old adage of foreigners needing time to adapt to the pace, pressure and atmosphere of the Premier League when compared to the Champions League. Perhaps Eto'o has also yet to truly find his feet because Mourinho himself is still working out how to tactically get the best out of their 4-2-3-1 formation.
That new setup even saw Mourinho experiment with Andre Schurrle as an out-of-position, ineffective lone striker in the 0-0 draw at Manchester United in August before Eto'o was signed. But the key to Eto'o's better performances in the Champions League appears to be that, although still the lone striker, he has been playing in a deeper position in Europe.
Mourinho has always had faith in Eto'o and he now needs that Champions League form to be replicated domestically. It is therefore vital Mourinho's tactics ensure Eto'o, who does look like has lost a bit of his pace, does not become isolated in advanced areas of the pitch. Mourinho hinted as much in September, when he said of his players and Eto'o familiarising themselves to the tactics: "He is a player adapted to the style of play we want in our team which is a bit contradictory to the general style and philosophy in the Premier League.
"We are not anymore a physical, direct team. We want to use the qualities of our attacking players in a different way. His movement is very intelligent. He knows exactly the kind of movement he has to do to give continuity to the attacking game. He has a natural appetite for goals and he will score a few goals for us and he will give us experience."
|Eto'o 2013/14 - Prem Lge|
|Minutes per Goal||0|
|Chances Created (inc assists)||1|
|Total Passes Made||32|
Despite some underwhelming Premier League statistics so far, it is of course also still very early in Eto'o's Chelsea career. It is not just the need to avoid him being isolated. He will need time to rediscover his form against some of the best defenders in the business having previously been playing in the less competitive Russian Premier League with Anzhi.
As a striker, the four-time African Player of the Year will get more opportunities to do so and gain match sharpness due to Mourinho - and most managers' - preference to introduce attackers as substitutes. Eto'o will improve with game time, particularly in what is likely to be a run of starts in Torres' absence before and after the international break, beginning against Chris Hughton's Norwich.
The most recent positive signs from Eto'o came again in the Champions League in that win against Steaua. His saved shot led to the hapless Daniel Georgievski scoring Chelsea's second goal as an own goal in their 4-0 victory. In his 79 minutes on the pitch, Eto'o hit the target with three out of five shots - more than any of his team-mates. He also created five chances and assisted, albeit perhaps inadvertently, Ramires' opener. His pass completion rate from 21 attempts was an impressive 90.5%, which was only bettered by John Terry (91.2%) and Frank Lampard (91.5%) among his team-mates who played 79 minutes or more.
The manner in which Eto'o linked with Lampard and Juan Mata against Steaua was also promising in central areas. Eto'o received six successful passes from Lampard and played four in return. With Mata, Eto'o received six successful passes and played two in return.
Chelsea will hope this is all a sign of Eto'o rediscovering his best form. They will need him against Norwich this weekend and potentially beyond that point in games against Cardiff City, Schalke in the Champions League, and further Premier League fixtures versus title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal before the end of October.