Has his time finally run out at Stamford Bridge?
While the depressing sub-plot that has been Fernando Torres’ Chelsea career has hardly been scripted overnight, you couldn’t help but feel that last night’s 2-0 defeat to Swansea in the Capital One Cup offered something resembling a seminal chapter. And unfortunately for the Spaniard, this isn’t a novel that’s likely to have a dramatic twist at the end, either.
As Torres seemed to lumber around in what’s sadly become more of a trademark fashion than an occasional off-day, we were treated to a performance that served to epitomise much of the ex-Liverpool man’s time at Stamford Bridge. Yet it was the supporting cast that really seemed to hammer home the message that’s become almost impossible to ignore.
Playing as the lone frontman, Torres huffed and puffed, and produced lots of movement that looked potentially dangerous in its intent, yet ultimately purposeless in its execution. Yet again, while the £50million man did his best to look like a potent attacking force, it was left down to those behind him to produce much of that attacking threat for him.
The gifted trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard are always going to offer problems for the opposition no matter what striker they play behind, but as was the case last night, where as they should be the supporting act to Torres they continue to be represent the star attraction in attack.
And if Chelsea needed a haunting reminder of their record signing’s lack of proficiency in front of goal, they need only look at the man that slotted away the first goal against them. Because for all the awe and wonder heaped upon Michu’s outrageously low price tag, it’s the basic fact that he offers so much more to Swansea than what Torres does to Chelsea at the moment. Or perhaps to a more dooming extent, he ever has done.
Michu doesn’t play in front of the £30million talents of Eden Hazard or one of the league’s best attacking midfielders in Juan Mata. Yet he’s still netted 13 times in the Premier League, one short of double Fernando Torres’ tally. Yes, Torres may have got 14 in all competitions, but Michu’s tally doesn’t include a brace against Danish minnows Nordsjaelland or goals scored in maulings against lesser teams when the game’s as good as won such as Torres has against the likes of Wolves and Leeds.
Although Michu of course doesn’t have a European Championship or a World Cup medal to his name like Fernando Torres, Stamford Bridge new boy Demba Ba doesn’t boast those riches either, nor has he scored 20 league goals plus in a Premier League season as Torres racked up in the 2007-08 term. But that didn’t stop him from playing better than the Spaniard last night.
In fact, Ba did more in his solitary ten minutes on the field than Torres did in 80. Yes, Torres foraged and forayed in the Swansea penalty area, peeling away and making sharp, clever movements. But all the movement in the world cannot compensate for a lack of goal threat. After coming on in the 81st minute, Ba headed a great looping effort towards Gerhard Tremmel’s goal, should have been awarded a penalty and arguably had a goal wrongly flagged for offside.
The big Senegalese international visibly lifted the Stamford Bridge crowd and why wouldn’t he? While Torres has laboriously knocked in 26 goals in all competitions since making his Stamford Bridge debut, Ba has been scoring for fun since he arrived in English football at roughly the same time as Torres moved to Chelsea. The main difference being that where as Torres has scored 14 Premier League goals, Ba has notched up 36. Only Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have scored more in that time.
This isn’t rocket science for Rafa Benitez or at least it shouldn’t be if he wishes to make his stay in West London amount to anything more than a Fernando Torres salvage operation. In Ba, Chelsea now possess one of the top five Premier League goal scorers of the last two years and there’s no reason why he can’t continue to score goals if thrusted into the first XI.
For all the stick that Benitez has received since taking the reigns from Roberto Di Matteo, with perhaps the 1-0 defeat to QPR apart, the side haven’t been playing all that bad. Even in last night’s defeat, two one-off howlers from Branislav Ivanovic apart, the Blues dominated for much of the 90 minutes. The recurring problem was yet again an inability to finish off chances.
There seems to be a persistent belief that at some point down the line, it’s an absolute banker that Fernando Torres will become the player he once was at Chelsea, although after playing his 100th game for the club last night, how many more chances can he be afforded? If Chelsea have anything bordering on realistic designs of success, the answer has to be not many more.
Dropping Torres from the team has nothing to do with tactics, managers, malaise, prejudice or past reputation. It’s just basic logic.
Chelsea need to wake up, smell the coffee and view this for what it is. Forget the fact it’s Fernando Torres. This is a striker who after signing for an outrageously high fee, has scored only 26 goals in 100 appearances. Since arriving at Stamford Bridge, he’s been outscored in the league by a list including the likes of Danny Graham, Grant Holt and Jonathan Walters. And as a side note, they’ve just purchased one of the most prolific strikers in the country.
With a game in hand against third-placed Tottenham, the doomsday scenario may seem some way of for Chelsea. But with no get out of jail free card should they finish outside the top four this term, their continued faith in Fernando Torres represents a very dangerous game indeed.