Chelsea have let their lead slip at the top of the Premier League after failing to win in their last three outings and despite all of their impressive forward play, without the right man to lead the line they will continue to dazzle and frustrate in equal measure until a replacement for Fernando Torres is found.
Not enough credit can be attributed to the job that manager Roberto Di Matteo has done over the course of the past nine months since taking over the reins in the aftermath of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking and the team have made a real leap forward this season in terms of their style and the system that the play with.
The focal point of their 4-2-3-1 formation is the Spanish international and despite having a system catered to get the best out of him, he still lurches between the fantastic and awful with crushing regularity. The one consistent theme of Torres’ time at Stamford Bridge has been that just when it looks as if he’s starting to turn a corner and show a consistent threat in front of goal, his form tails off for a spell of games before it resurfaces once more.
It has to be said, I didn’t envisage a title challenge from Chelsea this season but they’ve proved me wrong so far, yet the feeling persists that until they have a player of the calibre of the support cast including the likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard, they will continue to come up just short.
Ever since making his £50m move from Liverpool to the current European champions, he’s always faced an uphill battle to justify his fee, with Carlo Ancelotti as well as Villas-Boas finding it difficult to integrate him successfully into the side. Nevertheless, the club’s summer business can be seen as little more than a last roll of the dice in an attempt to get the best out of the 28-year-old and Di Matteo has done his best to provide a platform capable of adjusting to Torres’ qualities, and without the spectre of Didier Drogba looming large on the sidelines to contend with anymore, it seemed like progress was being made.
With 12 goals in 67 games over the past season and a half is a terrible return given the outlay, but with seven in 18 across all competitions this term, it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it seems as if the Torres of his 2007-8 peak will never quite make it back, even if we still catch fleeting glimpses every now and again.Whether he’s lost that crucial yard of pace to get in front of his man and get a shot away or is still lacking confidence is anyone’s guess, but the club are waiting for a player to return that simply isn’t there anymore.
The team are currently three games in the league without a win after following up their controversial defeat to Manchester United at home with two successive draws against Swansea and Liverpool and they’ve relinquished their lead at the top, dropping into third place behind both Manchester sides.
Reports linking the club with a move for the truly awesome Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao are entirely understandable, because the likes of Mata, Hazard and Oscar are a creative triumvirate capable of striking fear into the hearts of any opposition in Europe and the diminutive Spaniard has been the standout performer in the league so far this season.
It’s not that there’s an awful lot particularly wrong with the version of Torres that we see now; he’s better than he used to be at holding the ball up and bringing others into play, which may suit the system well, but when it comes to providing that crucial difference in games of importance, can they really rely on him in the same way that they used to with Drogba? Will Torres really be the player they need to come up with what is often described as ‘the big goals’?
The jury is out and despite a flawed defence, they remain serious contenders for City’s league crown at present. United and Roberto Mancini’s side have both struggled defensively so far this campaign and you simply don’t need an outstanding unit at the back to go on a consistent run of form these days. With Robin van Persie so impressive for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side so far, it just goes to show what is possible with a striker of real world-class quality up top.
The experiment with Torres leading the line is far from a failure as of yet and he’ll likely be given the full year to prove himself in what remains quite possibly his last chance to be a guaranteed regular at Stamford Bridge, but with their rivals displaying surprising weaknesses at the back, the club’s hierarchy may see this is the ideal time to strike and owner Roman Abramovich has never been shy of dipping into his deep pockets in the January transfer window.
Relying on Torres is far from a path fraught with danger, but when Chelsea look back on their league campaign at the end of the season, the threat that this year may go down as a missed opportunity is a very real one, which could prompt movement to solve the troubling striking issue which simply refuses to go away once and for all.
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