Are we witnessing the evolution of Fernando Torres?
So much has been said and written about Fernando Torres since his British transfer record breaking move to Stamford Bridge just over 18 months ago.
The undeniable truth is that Chelsea have not signed the player they thought they had, as often Torres has looked a shadow of the man who plied his trade so spectacularly at Anfield.
And still fans and pundits yearn for that Fernando Torres to almost magically reappear, and start firing in goals left right and centre. Those waiting for that will be waiting for a long time.
This is not because of lack of skill, passion or desire on Torres’ part. This is because Torres has had to adapt and change his style of play, not just since his move from Stamford Bridge, but possibly dating back as far as the 2009-2010 season.
When Torres arrived in England and on Merseyside in 2007 he was almost unplayable. He bagged 33 goals in his debut season, a tally he hasn’t come close to matching since. His biggest asset was his lightening pace.
He was the focal point of Liverpool’s attack, his pace crucial in stretching the game and providing an outlet for counter attacks. You rarely saw him come short and receive the ball, hold it up and link up the play. He was very much the main man responsible for causing the defence problems and scoring the goals with his pace and finishing ability.
If you look back on Torres goals from his time at Anfield, so many of them are one-on-one situations with goalkeepers having been played clean through, or examples of him using his pace to beat a defender before finishing cooly.The ability to time his runs and use his pace was second to none, and saw him form a telepathic understanding with Steven Gerrard.
The turning point for Torres came during his second season in England, when he picked up a hamstring injury on international duty with Spain. Liverpool’s desperation to rush their main man back into action meant Torres didn’t reap the benefits of a full recovery programme, and sadly found himself in and out of the treatment room for the rest of his time on Merseyside.
Hamstring injuries for players with pace can be a real killer. The fact Torres was never allowed a full recovery may have played a big part in his steady decline. During his last year at Liverpool and during his time at Stamford Bridge, he has often looked half a yard off the pace.
Similarly to what happened to Michael Owen, having suffered with a bad hamstring injury that was not allowed to be put right, Torres has lost that half a yard of pace from his game, an asset that was so crucial to his success in the Premier League.
Owen openly admitted he had lost half a yard of pace following three years of struggle with a hamstring injury, and had been working hard to adapt and change his game.
Whilst also having to do this, Torres has had to adapt to Chelsea’s different style of play, a style that does not focus on him being the main man and tactics that do not perhaps play direct to his strengths. Taking all this into account, you can perhaps go some way to understanding why he has struggled at Stamford Bridge.
But the signs for Torres so far this season have been promising. It appears as though the Spaniard has known far longer than most criticizing him week in week out that he was not going to be that same player that terrorized defenders in 2008, and has gone about quietly improving other aspects to his game.
Last season we saw him provide a large number of assists for his teammates whilst not always getting on the scoresheet himself. His link up play has improved alongside his ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play. He looks physically bigger and stronger than when he first arrived in England. He was even popping up on the right wing and delivering pin point crosses for his teammates on several occasions last season.
This season he looks to be thriving on being the main man once again. He has bagged 5 goals in all competitions, a record of one in two, that if kept up could well be enough to lead Chelsea to title glory.
All of his goals this season have been very different, from headers, to tap ins, to superb instinctive finishes the likes we saw against Newcastle and Arsenal. But the common factor with all his strikes, is that none have come from running in behind a defender or beating men with his pace. Those days of Torres look to have gone.
His link up play with the likes of Hazard, Oscar and fellow Spaniard Mata has been impressive, with Torres’ movement often creating space for them to exploit.
He may not be the goal scoring sensation Roman Abramovich thought he was signing, with pace to burn, but Fernando Torres with more strings to his bow may prove to just as important for Chelsea this season.
He still has that finishing ability, make no mistake about that. His finish against Arsenal was superb, whilst his goal against Newcastle was a perfect example of his ability to link up with his teammates whilst still showing real quality in front of goal.
If pundits and press could realize Torres is not the same player as his days at Liverpool and get behind what he is trying to do and notice the improvements to his game he has made, he may yet prove to be worth every penny of that £50 million for Chelsea.
Have you been impressed with Torres this season? Follow me on Twitter @LukeGreenwood89 and let me know your thoughts.