Going into the new season, Chelsea fans could be forgiven for carrying a renewed sense of optimism. They’ve hired one of Europe’s most sought after coaches and they’ve bought reasonably well in the transfer market, with the emphasis on young, emerging talent. However, one issue still needs to be addressed, how do they plan to get the best out of their club record signing Fernando Torres? For if Villas Boas fails as miserably as Ancelotti did to come to a lasting and successful conclusion, the problem could just as easily claim another managerial casualty.
Fernando Torres was a Chairman’s signing in every sense of the word. The club had no need for him. Ancelotti had no need for him. Torres was in poor form, hampered by injuries and fatigue and he appeared to have lost a yard of pace. Big signings made in January are rarely successful and with regards to the timing of the transfer, it was ill-conceived at best.
It wasn’t the timing nor the overbearing pressure put upon Ancelotti from above to play their new star signing that ultimately proved the Italian’s undoing – it was his failure to successfully integrate him into a system that got the best out of both him and the club’s existing talent.
The indelible mark made by Jose Mourinho still looms large over this squad and for the most part, it’s style of play hasn’t changed a great deal despite four different managers taking over the helm since his departure and prior to his one-time protégée’s arrival.
The side have based their powerful approach for the most part around two key individuals approaching the twilights of their respective careers – Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. That is not to say that both of them don’t have a large part to play in the coming season, but with both 33 years of age, the emphasis at the club now has to be on what life will be like after them.
Personally, on his day, I still think Drogba can be a truly terrifying force and now he’s malaria-free, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Lampard last season, while not at his best due to niggling injuries, is still a reliable stream of goals and replacing him remains one of the club’s biggest obstacles going into the future.
Which brings us to Torres. How do you successfully merge the old with the new? It’s worth pointing out that Torres has never been part of a successful strike partnership.
Alongside David Villa and Sergio Aguero in the past, Torres has shown sporadic flashes of brilliance but nothing that can be said to be either lasting or that would constitute something approaching a striking ‘partnership‘. He did achieve success at Liverpool alongside Steven Gerrard, where the duo appeared to tear teams apart in tandem, but while Gerrard was certainly further forward than normal in a supporting role he could not be said to be have been playing as a striker. It’s become abundantly clear that to get the best out of Torres you have to build a team around him and that is where the concern lies.
Chelsea have Daniel Sturridge, Nicolas Anelka, Drogba, Torres and the soon to be confirmed Romelu Lukaku swelling their striking ranks going into the new campaign, so how can Villas Boas get the best out of Torres?
It appears that he is staking his reputation on the Drogba/Torres combination finally firing. Anelka is capable of playing out wide, as is Daniel Sturridge although that isn’t how you get the best out of both of them.
They say that you need a four-man strike force to challenge for the title but Chelsea will start the season with five recognised strikers whose main position is as a central striker. The clamour to have him dropped from the starting line-up should he start the season in indifferent form will be hard to quell, especially when there are so many different alternatives within the squad. This begs the question – will Torres always be an automatic first-choice? If Villa Boas values his job, you’d be inclined to suspect so, but he’s certainly been placed in a difficult position.
The transfer priority this summer at Stamford Bridge has rather understandably been on a creative midfielder to add a degree of guile to their attacking play. They cannot rely on Lampard forever, and his freak goals to game ratio is most certainly the exception as opposed to the rule with concerns to his position. Luka Modric remains the top target and their continued pursuit looks to hold the key to getting the best out of Torres this term.
Torres operates best with a system based around him and a creative player just in behind him. Chelsea have for so long operated as a side that builds play from up top and out wide, they haven’t played as a side that puts the ball in behind the back four for quite some years and as such they simply aren’t used to it. To see Torres back at his imperious best, they’ll have to adapt to him as much as he has will to them.
There will be reservations about whether we’re ever likely to see Torres return to his blistering best. He looked to have lost that crucial yard of pace last season and as is so often the story, with striker’s in particular, once they have had a season or more of niggling injuries, they rarely return to their best.
The club have been priced out of a move for long-term target Neymar and they wisely buckled at the £40m Javier Pastore moved to the newly-rich PSG for. I find it somewhat strange though, that there hasn’t been more of an attempt to pursue Wesley Sneijder, particularly in the face of Spurs’ stance on Modric.
Sneijder is agitating for a move and would surely fancy a switch to Stamford Bridge if given the chance. He is one of the best in the business at slotting the ball in behind a static defence as evidenced by his almost telepathic understanding with both Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito on their run to a historic treble in 2010.
He would cost a similar fee to that of Modric and is just 15 months older and approaching his peak. In terms of value for money, Sneijder represents a better deal. Modric has the potential to be a world-class player but is still relatively untested at the highest level; Sneijder is already in the bracket marked ’world-class’ and has had a hugely successful career at the highest level to date so far.
Getting the best out Fernando Torres, in the immediate future at least, remains Villas Boas’s main obstacle to success and it will remain the proverbial elephant in the room at every press conference until he is a success.
The Drogba/Torres partnership, in theory, can work, but only with that crucial link-man that Chelsea have identified as a priority target. So far Chelsea’s business this summer could best be put marked away under the tag ‘quietly efficient’. I wouldn’t bet against Modric rocking up in West London by September 1st, but to get the best out of the aforementioned duo, it’s clear that changes are needed behind them, for without a new creative midfielder, Fernando Torres will continue to struggle.
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