Failure to find the back of the net once again, this time versus Wigan, has seen the goal drought of Fernando Torres extend to a remarkable twelve (12) hours.
I had concerns about Torres’ transfer to Chelsea in the first place and now that the Spaniard is continuing to frustrate in front of goal, I’ve decided to outline the key issues that made this transfer a bad idea for Torres and for Chelsea and how Liverpool was the unsuspecting benefactor.
(1) Fernando Torres Wasn’t Needed to Begin With…
Prior to the signing of Torres, Chelsea had four (4) senior strikers on their books- Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge. Ancelotti played a consistent 4-3-3 at the time with Anelka positioned on the right side of a central Drogba in a front trident, leaving Kalou and Sturridge on the bench. So, there was enough personnel at the manager’s disposal. Yes, the strikers were displaying erratic form in front of goal and still are, mind you, but could there have possibly been another solution to that problem, besides bringing in a fifth striker in Torres? That brings us to the next issue.
(2) Buying a Striker Was the Wrong Option…
Chelsea’s central midfield includes the likes of Ramires, Michael Essien, John Mikel Obi, Yossi Benayoun, Frank Lampard and Joshua McEachran. Benayoun and Lampard were out for a while due to injury, leaving Ramires, Essien, Obi and McEachran as the club’s primary midfield options and even so, it’s hard to count McEachran, given the fact that he was hardly given an opportunity. On occasion though, we saw Malouda occupy a midfield role in an attempt to fill the void left by Lampard and Benayoun.
Them aside, the popular choice in Ancelotti’s three-man midfield during Lampard and Benayoun’s absence was Obi, Essien and Ramires. Those three players are not naturally creative players. They are defensive midfielders. Strikers like Drogba and Anelka are strikers who thrive on the creativity of midfield. A lack thereof because of a three-man defensive midfield saw them deprived of the service that is critical to their goalscoring form.
In a situation like that, Ancelotti needed a striker who would drop deep to pick the ball up from midfield and run at defenders with it into the final third. That way, he would’ve been relying on his own creative ability rather than the lack thereof in midfield. Kalou is capable of this and seeing that his style of play is best suited to that of a wing-forward, he would’ve been better suited to the wide right role Anelka occupied. Although hardly involved of late, it is worth noting that he has seven (7) league goals and three (3) league assists- one (1) more than Anelka and the same amount as Anelka, respectively.
Daniel Sturridge, currently on loan at Bolton Wanderers, is not only capable of this as well, but he is doing it to devastating effect at the moment. Had he been given more of an opportunity at his parent club, he would’ve done a fine job through the middle in place of Drogba. Florent Malouda has been in a bad run of form of late, but as there were few other options available, he would’ve had to continue on the left flank. Thus, the front trident would have consisted of Kalou, Sturridge and Malouda.
Given that solution, Ancelotti could have made one of two (2) choices- (1) Stick with that tactic until his creative midfielders returned from injury or (2) Buy a creative midfielder if he felt he couldn’t trust Kalou and Sturridge over Anelka and Drogba. Buying a striker, however, was a bad choice. Buying Torres at this point in time, was even worse.
(3) The Torres of Today is NOT the Torres of Yesteryear…
This is not similar to the case of Andriy Shevchenko. We’re not talking about a striker who has failed to adapt to the rigors and style of play of the Barclays Premier League. Fernando Torres became an instant hit and fans’ favorite at Anfield. Goals were flying in here, there and everywhere off the laces of the Spaniard’s boot. A fantastic return of over thirty (30) goals in his first season at the club was vivid evidence of this. Torres had absolutely no problem adapting to the league.
Some time ago, however, he raised a concern- he could only play the English game for so long, given the strain it put on his body. It was dismissed somewhat at that point in time, given the fact that he was still banging in the goals. He had an astonishing scoring record at Anfield and he was among the fastest players to score fifty (50) Premier League goals.
Long-term, however, those words of warning rang true. The year before the World Cup, Torres experienced persistent injury problems that kept him out for long spells at a time. Those injury problems, inevitably, affected his brilliant form for Liverpool and later at the World Cup with Spain, his lack of fitness and form was made more apparent to the watching world. Since then, he has struggled to recapture the kind of devastating form that made him synonymous with Liverpool and cherished by all at the club.
Injuries are not only to blame for the slump of this once deadly striker. Problems on and off the pitch at Liverpool also took a swipe at his confidence. A change of ownership and the sacking of two (2) managers did little to build what little confidence Torres had. Nine (9) league goals and two (2) league assists were all he mustered for Liverpool this season.
His unhappiness at the club was clear for all to see. An exit from Anfield seemed inevitable. Chelsea were long-term admirers, finally saw a window of opportunity to get their man and snatched at the fifty (50) million pound chance. Both Chelsea and Torres displayed a bit of naivety and desperation here and they are paying the price, literally. Chelsea spent a British record fee on the idea of Fernando Torres, not the modern day real thing. Their season was going up in flames, the manager was coming under increasing pressure and they thought the old Torres would swoop in and become the focal point of a late surge to success. Torres was eager to get out of Anfeld. He wanted to challenge for silverware and was not willing to wait on the new John W. Henry regime to pay its dividends. He heard of Chelsea’s interest and jumped at the chance. Both parties reacted in a knee-jerk manner.
The benefactor in all of this is Liverpool. After all, they got rid of an unhappy and out of form player and gained fifty (50) million pounds in the process! Surely, that’s good business.
How Can Chelsea Get the Best Out of Fernando Torres?
Fernando Torres is a striker who plays off the shoulder of the last defender. He relies heavily on the creativity of midfield. Thus, the return to fitness of Lampard and Benayoun is key to the Spaniard returning to some kind of goalscoring form. Also to be considered is the fact that Torres does not play particularly well with a partner. This was overlooked by Chelsea. At Liverpool, Steven Gerrard was a large part of why Torres proved to be such a success at Anfield. The Spaniard thrived on the opportunities that Gerrard created for him. Torres enjoyed being the focal point of the attack.
At Chelsea, Ancelotti can take a similar approach. He may not have Gerrard, but he has Lampard and Benayoun. Either of them would do a good job playing “in the hole” behind Torres in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 setup. Torres would be the lone striker in the starting eleven (11). Just one goal can kick-start an excellent revival for Torres. After all, look at Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez now since his tap-in for Germany a little while back. It’s not impossible for Torres. All he needs is a break- a tap-in, a clear-cut opportunity. As long as the player “in the hole” does his job and as long as Torres gets to play his favored role as a lone striker, there will be many chances to come.
Drogba, Anelka and company won’t be too happy about it, but the Chelsea hierarchy would have only themselves to blame for that. Either way, Carlo Ancelotti has to do something to get the best out of someone who is quickly becoming the country’s most expensive flop and Liverpool’s best and probably only reason to look back at this season and laugh heartily.