As if they needed any crueller twists of fate, it had to be full-back Glen Johnson who scored the type of goal that £85m worth of substitute were bought to score.
That Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll both started Sunday’s clash between Chelsea and Liverpool on the bench was only a partial surprise owing more to the patchy form of the rest of Chelsea’s attacking cohort. Carroll’s omission raised few eyebrows.
The two January deadline day signings have scored just seven goals between them across a combined total of 39 league games – the equivalent of a full Premier League campaign plus one. To put the shortcomings of the record British transfers into perspective, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scored seven for Wolves last season, as did Demba Ba for West Ham after signing for the Hammers – a side that were ultimately relegated – three days before Torres and Carroll moved. Ba has gone on to score another eight since signing for Newcastle meaning the Senegalese striker has scored 15 times in 23 outings whilst Torres and Carroll continue to labour.
Whichever way you look at it there is no way to put a silver lining around the cloud of such a poor return for players who were procured for such lavish sums, however, there are a few mitigating circumstances. Since the end of January, Chelsea and Liverpool have played 52 league games between them yet the anti-strikers have started just 26 of those combined, meaning their abject statistics are – slightly – skewed.
Given the rarity of strikes it’s understandable that their participation has been so reduced, but the chicken and egg conundrum for strikers is how do they score if they’re not on the pitch? The not so dynamic duo got eight minutes between them at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and this chequered pattern has punctuated their respective careers at their new clubs.
Some of it has been of their own doing. Torres was finally beginning to find some form at the start of September with a lively second half performance at Old Trafford and a goal the week after against Swansea, however, a brainless tackle in the same game saw the Spaniard suspended for the next three domestic fixtures to curtail his rise.
Unfortunately for Torres though his absence resulted in arguably Chelsea’s most polished performances of the seasons with resounding wins over Bolton and Everton and although they were undone at QPR – the loss of their £50m man was a blessing in disguise. But after that came the chance not to once again utilise a player in circumstances where he could have gained match minutes. An extra-time win over Everton saw Torres watch all 120 minutes from the bench as the untried Romelu Lukaku was thrust into the fold at his expense.
Again on Wednesday night as Chelsea slipped to another reverse in Leverkusen, Torres did nothing more than watch on from the bench as Didier Drogba justified his inclusion with the opening goal thus piling more pressure on the under fire artist formerly known as el Nino.
At Anfield the situation has been similar for Carroll again largely through his own doing. The former Newcastle front man was given an early opportunity against Sunderland and arsenal but blanks and limited effectiveness saw him omitted for the next home fixture with Bolton – which Dalglish’s men went on to win 3-1 and Stoke away which they lost. Carroll was reinstated without impact for the thumping by Tottenham and another presentable mission against Wolves at home where he again failed to impress. But then comes the indifferent selection. After a goal in the Merseyside derby, Carroll was left out against Manchester United and Norwich before being given another go against Stoke and West Brom where he found the net. That goal earned him another chance in the goalless draw with Swansea resulting in a minute cameo at the Bridge. Carroll’s scattergun selection may make it difficult for him, and likewise Torres, to find rhythm and form but largely their exclusions have been justified.
Neither player has been granted unparalleled access to team affairs to cement their spots but in these results driven age, team affairs stretch much deeper than the fortunes of one player especially when those one players don’t necessarily deserve a place anyway.
If you analyse the overall contributions of Torres and Carroll it isn’t just the goals which are missing from their play. At Stamford Bridge, Dalglish pulled off a masterstroke by using the infectious running of Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez to unsettle Chelsea’s flow to maximum effect and that energy is a commodity that Carroll just does not bring to the piece. At Newcastle, he proved his worth not entirely through goals but through a presence and ability to lead the line in the great tradition of St James’s number nine’s.
Fed off a mixed supply, Carroll caused untold problems for opposition defences with his aerial prowess and muscular unsettling of his marker. Little of that has been evident since his £35m switch meaning it is not just the lack of goals which Liverpool have been short changed on.
The comparisons continue with Torres’s travails in London. Often deployed as a lone striker during his glory years with Rafa Benitez, the Spaniard’s vitality and willingness to run the channels was just as effective as his predatory penalty box skills, but again the same work rate and movement was evidently not included in the king’s ransom.
The moral of the story here is, that across the scale of players, from academy graduates to peripheral squad members, through to midfield dogs of war and silky ball players, each and every player needs to prove his value to the side through a mix of individual ability and traditional values of effort and endeavour and neither Torres or Carroll have done enough of the latter, let alone the former to justify concerted selection, and only when they get back to basics and earn their spot will the rest follow.
In an age where sports scientists, physiologists, dieticians and psychologists have an increasing prominence in football club set-ups, there is still no substitute for the timeless non-technical logic of running your socks off.
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