Baba Rahman installs himself on our list of enemies

Long-time fans of this blog – those who preferred the earlier stuff, as opposed to all the rest of you Johnny Come Latelies – will recall that the first entry regarded a numerical switcheroo at Chelsea to allow Didier Drogba to take his favoured number 11 upon his return to the club.

Drogba has of course since departed and number 11 is now occupied by Juan Cuadrado, which would suit his position if he ever made it on to the pitch. That wasn’t the only example of musical chairs at the Blues last summer – when the signings of Filipe Luis and Kurt Zouma were announced, it was initially stated that left-back Luis would wear 5 and Zouma, a centre-back, would be 3.

Thankfully, sense prevailed but, a year on, it looks like sanity is losing the battle. With Luis departed after struggling to make an impact ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta – our favourite player from another club, so forgiven for wearing 28 – he left and Baba Rahman was signed as his replacement.

Obviously, the number 3 was free and seemingly the logical choice for left-back Rahman, but he was announced as being given 17 (with ‘Baba’ on the back rather than ‘Rahman’, in honour of his father, also Baba, but presumably also Rahman too). At Augsburg, from whom he joined Chelsea, the Ghanaian international wore 18 while at his previous club before that, Greuther Fürth, he was 12, so a deep desire for 17 doesn’t seem apparent.

If it were present, it’s clearly not strong enough to refuse to allow Pedro to wear it, as is now the case. Having worn 17 and then 7 at Barcelona, the Spanish attacker has some attachment to numbers featuring 7 and his installation there has meant Rahman having to switch. To 3? No, to 6, even though it had belonged to young centre-back Nathan Aké, who is on loan to Watford.

Why Rahman’s aversion to 3? We don’t know, but, if their pursuit of Everton’s John Stones finally bears fruit and he is given 3, it won’t sit well with us at all. But then, we’re probably naive to expect more from a club where the captain wears 26.

False alarm

Juan Cuadrado’s transfer from Fiorentina to Chelsea had been flagged in advance, and last weekend rumours began to circulate regarding which number he would wear.

For those of us who like our numbers traditional, those rumours were chilling, with reports that he had decided to don the number 74.

The winger’s favoured number is 11 – though he is more right- than left-sided – and with Didier Drogba wearing that, a choice had to be made. The reasoning for 74 was that the two digits added up to 11 (though 29 and 38 were also free), but now it seems that he will have 23 instead.

Presumably his sights are set on 11 when Drogba leaves again, which will surely be sooner rather than later.

Update, January 2015: Cuadrado did indeed take 11 when Drogba left, but, like Andre Schurrle and Kevin de Bruyne before him, the winger found that Jose Mourinho had decided at an early stage that he didn’t fancy him. He has spent the current season on with Juventus, for whom he wears 16.

A look into the future?

@Jay29ers from Design Football got in touch again with another article suggestion. We’re not sure we fully agree with the execution of an interesting concept but we’ll put it to the floor. Take it away, Jay:

Monday, April 27, 2015:

Arsène Wenger’s position as Arsenal manager was hanging by a thread last night after Jose Mourinho seemingly coerced him into tactical suicide.

Chelsea’s 3-0 victory at the Emirates came at the end of a week of verbal jousting that the Frenchman had both initiated and spurned an opportunity to distance himself from.  The result leaves the Gunners four points outside of the Champions League qualification places, after a weekend that saw Manchester United and Liverpool take the opportunity to leapfrog Southampton into third and fourth places respectively.

Seven days ago, a routine press briefing was enlivened by Wenger’s questionable assertion that Arsenal’s “first eleven” was technically superior to that of their West London rivals.  A point intended to highlight his side’s injury woes throughout the season – bizarrely vocalised in a week when Wenger’s squad could boast an entirely clean bill of health – was jumped on, and ostensibly taken entirely literally, by Mourinho (“Arsenal’s one to eleven better than Chelsea’s?”), who scoffed at the idea when probed for a response by the media.

Obviously riled, Wenger held firm on Friday’s appearance in front of microphones and cameras.  Accordingly, Mourinho grunting “He still thinks that?  Ok, Chelsea’s second eleven can beat Arsenal’s first.  You know 1933 FA Cup Final?” acted as a final red rag to a bull that no one could have previously predicted Wenger would play so ably in this pantomime.  Heads were scratched amongst the proverbial Fleet Street cognoscenti, but eventually the proposition that Arsenal should select their players in possession of squad numbers one to eleven, and Chelsea theirs from twelve to 22, was understood and relayed.

Instead of rising above the Portuguese’s gamesmanship, Wenger released his inner-Marty McFly and – we presume stopping short of writing “Nobody calls me chicken” on his submitted teamsheet – duly dispensed with the resurgent Theo Walcott (#14) and the recently dependable Aaron Ramsey (#16).  With no number 5 on the squad list since Thomas Vermaelen’s departure, artistic licence allowed the retention of Alexis Sanchez (#17), in this case as an entirely ineffectual centre-forward.

One impending crisis was averted through Mourinho being as good as his word, in a manner of speaking.  The inclusion of numbers 24 and 26 in the form of Cahill and Terry, and certainly number 2, Branislav Ivanovic, made a mockery of the “second eleven” notion, but as simply to fill the gaps in the requisite squad section it broke no unspoken “rules”.  Conversely, with an ultra-attacking 3-4-3 formation, and Willian and Mohamed Salah having defensive duties from midfield, the Emirates faithful would ordinarily be licking their lips.  Unfortunately, with Lukas Podolski recalled to a starting lineup he surely would have assumed was now in his footballing past, and the other flank occupied by the flagging Tomáš Rosický, the industrious Chelsea wide men looked confident from the outset.

The only success for the home side was limiting the enduringly magificent Diego Costa to no goals and just the two first half assists – the first a pullback from the byline for an onrushing Andre Schürrle to tap home, the second a teasing dink forward straight into the path of the Brazilian right-midfielder.  The look the adopted Spaniard gave as his teammate offered thanks truly said “Willian, it was really nothing.”

Shortly after the break, Salah justified his place with a neat run and low drive into Szczęsny bottom right-hand corner, immediately alerting all around that the game, and the challenge, was up.  Enter number 4, Cesc Fàbregas, to half-hearted boos from the rapidly dispersing crowd.

In his post-match interview, Mourinho heaped praise on his troops – now champions elect – and kept his gloating to one barbed prediction: “Mr Wenger will never beat me.”  In the Arsenal hot-seat at least, he may just have blown his final chance.

Arsenal (0) 0 Chelsea (2) 3

Goals: Schürrle (9), Willian (28), Salah (53)

Yellow cards – Arsenal: Debuchy (33), Podolski (61), Özil (70), Wilshere (74)

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): 1 Szczęsny; 2 Debuchy, 4 Mertesacker, 6 Koscielny, 3 Gibbs; 10 Wilshere (16 Ramsey, 77), 8 Arteta; 7 Rosický, 11 Özil, 9 Podolski; 17 Alexis Sánchez (12 Giroud, 45).

Chelsea (3-4-3): 13 Courtois; 2 Ivanovic, 24 Cahill, 26 Terry; 22 Willian, 12 Mikel, 21 Matić, 17 Salah; 18 Rémy, 19 Diego Costa (4 Fàbregas, 60), 14 Schürrle.

1-11 in the Premier League redux, Part 1

We’ve already looked at the instances of Premier League sides fielding sides made up of players numbered from 1-11. Given that the last time that that phenomenon was properly witnessed was 1998, it would appear to be a relic, but how many of the current sides would be capable of managing it?

It was something worth examining, we felt, and we will do in a five-part series, working alphabetically. A couple of things to note:

– Where a club is missing a 1-11 number, it is denoted by the use of the away kit on the pitch graphic.

– Ideally, teams are laid out in the formation they use most often. If, though, all 11 numbers are filled then the formation is dictated by the players in those shirts.



  1. Wojciech Szczesny
  2. Mathieu Debuchy
  3. Kieran Gibbs
  4. Per Mertesacker
  5. Laurent Koscielny
  6. Tomas Rosicky
  7. Mikel Arteta
  8. Lukas Podolski
  9. Jack Wilshere
  10. Mesut Ozil

The departure of Thomas Vermaelen meant that 5 remains free and so we have utilised it alongside Arteta in the 4-2-3-1 which the Gunners often use. Switch 4 and 5 and 10 and 11 and this would be textbook. It’s a far cry from two years ago, when 3 (Bacary Sagna) was right-back, 11 (Andre Santos) was a left-back and 2 (Abou Diaby) played – or, rather, didn’t – in midfield.

Aston Villa


  1. Brad Guzan
  2. Nathan Baker
  3. Joe Bennett
  4. Ron Vlaar
  5. Jores Okore
  6. Ciarán Clark
  7. Leandro Bacuna
  8. Tom Cleverley
  9. Andreas Weimann
  10. Gabriel Agbonlahor

Villa have four defenders with low numbers, but all are centre-backs. Nathan Baker is first-choice with Ron Vlaar but for this we’ve had to shunt him to left-back, where he has played before, while Ciarán Clark is deployed in midfield. Baker’s position, and Agbonlahor wearing 11, mean that the missing numbers, 3 and 9, are in unconventional positions.

We hadn’t realised that number 3, Joe Bennett, was out on loan. His inclusion at left wing-back means 9 would play on the right with Weimann moving up alongside Agbonlahor. Most unsatisfactory.



  1. Thomas Heaton
  2. Kieran Trippier
  3. Danny Lafferty
  4. Michael Duff
  5. Jason Shackell
  6. Ben Mee
  7. Ross Wallace
  8. Dean Marney
  9. Sam Vokes
  10. Danny Ings
  11. Michael Kightly

The Clarets generally play 4-4-2 but numbers 4, 5 and 6 are all worn by centre-backs. The numbering is pretty much how we’d do it ourselves for a 3-5-2, though Wallace and Kightly are wingers rather than central midfielders.

Update: Thanks to Kitclashes Matt for pointing out that Ben Mee has played a bit in midfield, so we’ve changed it to what’d be considered a classic 4-4-2 in Ireland, 4 at CB and 6 in CM.



  1. Petr Cech
  2. Branislav Ivanovic
  3. Filipe Luis
  4. Cesc Fabregas
  5. Kurt Zouma
  6. Nathan Ake
  7. Ramires
  8. Oscar
  9. Fernando Torres
  10. Eden Hazard
  11. Didier Drogba

We know that Fernando Torres is unlikely to play for Chelsea again but he officially remains their number 9, even if having him permanently gone would allow it to be placed alongside Fabregas in a more accurate 4-2-3-1. Of the back four, only Ivanovic is first-choice though the other three are all young.

Chelsea’s false 9s

The number 9 is the goalscorer. If he can find the net every two games or better, then you can’t have too many complaints, really. Of course, nowadays ‘9’ generally refers to the player in the centre-forward position with the actual number on his back a fairly movable feast. Since the start of 2001-02, only once has the Premier League Golden Boot award been won by a number 9 (answer at the bottom).

It’s fitting that the last 9 to win it before that was Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2000-01, for this article looks at the curse of that shirt since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003-04. The Chelsea 9s just don’t get enough goals.


Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (2003-04)

Abramovich’s first season would prove to be Hasselbanink’s last in blue before joining Middlesbrough. While not complete duff, he wasn’t the force that he once was and a haul of 17 goals in 44 matches in all competitions was a poor return, especially considering that Chelsea came second in the league and reached the Champions League semi-finals. Ratio: 0.39 goals per game


Mateja Kezman (2004-05)

The Serbian arrived at Stamford Bridge having scored 105 goals in 122 games for PSV Eindhoven and the inheritance of Hasselbaink’s shirt seemed a perfect fit. Seven goals in 41 appearances for Chelsea suggested otherwise. Moved to Atletico Madrid, where he got eight in 30. Ratio: 0.17


Hernan Crespo (2005-06)

Crespo spent 2004-05 on loan at Milan, almost winning a Champions League medal, but he was back at Bridge for 05-06 and his swapping of number 21 for 9 seemed to be a statement of intent. While he got the winner away to Wigan on the opening day of the league season, he didn’t effect a turnaround in his Chelsea career and finished the campaign with 13 goals in 42 games before joining Inter. Ratio: 0.31


Khalid Boulahrouz (2006-07)

Chelsea’s new number 9 was really a number 2, number 3 or number 5. Khalid Boulahrouz, signed from Hamburg, was a dirty bastard of a defender and, not surprisingly, didn’t score in his 20 games with the club before joining Seville. Still, not much worse than Kezman. Ratio: 0


Steve Sidwell (2007-08)

Another non-striker in the shirt and again, worn for just one season. Sidwell arrived on a free from Reading and then joined Aston Villa, scoring once in 25 games. Ratio: 0.04


Franco di Santo (2008-09)

A striker, but never a first-choice player. Still a teenager when he signed, he had scored 13 in 55 for Chilean side Audax Italiano. Originally given 36 in the 2008 pre-season, he was subsequently assigned 9. Mainly used as a sub in his 16 Chelsea appearances, failing to find the net. Joined Blackburn on loan for 2009-10 and then inked a permanent move to Wigan. Ratio: 0


Fernando Torres (2011-14)

Chelsea didn’t allocate a number 9 at the start of the 2009-10 or 2010-11 seasons, allowing Torres to take it when he joined for £50m in January 2011. While he brought Gary Neville much joy in the Camp Nou, he couldn’t rediscover the form which made him such a hot property at Wigan. Having joined Milan on loan for the next two seasons, he’s unlikely to add to his Chelsea tally of 45 goals in 172 matches. Ratio: 0.26

So, in the 11 years since Abramovich bought the club, Chelsea number 9’s have scored 83 goals in 352 matches, an average of 0.24 goals a game. They’ve still won a few trophies in that time, mind.


  • Dimitar Berbatov is the last 9 to win the Golden Boot, doing so in 2010-11.

This one had to be called Number 1

Welcome to A Numbers Game, a study, critique and lament of football shirt numbers. To set our stall out from the start, we favour an adherence to the traditional numbering systems, but, while the occasional quirk may be tolerated, the really ‘out there’ stuff is a big no-no. We’ll keep it simple to start with, reproducing the letter we have printed in the current issue of When Saturday Comes:

Upon his return to Chelsea, it was announced that Didier Drogba would wear number 15, as he did when he first signed in 2004.
Then, the day before the start of the season, the club revealed that Oscar had inherited Frank Lampard’s number 8, freeing up 11 – the number Drogba had switched to in 2006.
The collateral damage? Mohamed Salah had moved from 15 to 17 to initially accommodate Drogba but there was no reversion made for him and 15 now remains empty. Does Drogba feel guilty in the slightest?