Make or break at Stamford Bridge

The signing of Fernando Torres for £50m back in January of last year has had huge implications on the club’s future style of play this term. While both Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas may have struggled to integrate him successfully into the club’s old system, it looks very much as if this summer’s transfer policy has been prepared with one thing in mind – getting the best out of the Spanish striker – and this season is very much a make or break one in terms of his future at the club.

Torres is very much a Roman Abramovich signing, foisted upon respective managers from on high much in the same way that Andriy Shevchenko was to Jose Mourinho. You can quite clearly see that neither Ancelotti or Mourinho especially wanted Shevchenko or Torres, it was just that their billionaire owner wanted to add a degree of glitz, glamour and style to proceedings and took it very much from the far too simplistic approach that just because a player costs a lot, that they can fit into any system and side. Both players subsequent struggles show that is clearly not the case and while his money is of course a huge help, at times Abramovich’s overbearing presence and continued meddling do cause the club some needless bother.

It seems odd that Andre Villas-Boas was tasked with delivering a new vision for the club on the pitch in terms of style but was only allowed to sign Juan Mata as an immediate first-choice regular starter, but now Roberto Di Matteo, an interim manager in all but name, has been allowed to spend £65m this summer. The timing of it smacks of being a season too late, but the thinking behind it is clear, they need to try and get the best out of Torres, who has, on occasion, still shown flashes of his brilliance at Stamford Bridge.

The club’s Champions League and FA Cup triumphs were done on the back of a return to the old guard last season, but with more limitations Di Matteo had to compensate for the lack of pace in the side. It worked extremely well and has helped create the conditions for this summer’s huge investment, which at least shows that Abramovich is in it for the long haul. So far this summer, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin have arrived, which points to a shift away from the powerful approach which served the side so well in years gone by, with the now departed Didier Drogba up front.

The issue of moving on the old guard is clearly one that needs seeing through and the above signings point to a shift in style and policy, with not one of them above 6ft in height or over the age of 23. In Juan Mata, they also have a similar style of player who at times last term, dovetailed beautifully with Torres in what promises to be an exciting partnership in the future.

The club’s links to FC Porto striker Hulk should not be seen as a direct threat to Torres, seeing as the majority of the Brazilian’s success for his club has come down the right-hand side of an attacking triumvirate, and if anything, he’ll be brought in to aid and supplement the support that Torres will get in an even larger sign of the club’s faith in their striker.

Whether the club lines up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation next season remains to be seen, but Torres is likely to be their main man up front whichever they go with. He didn’t fit in with the existing framework and he may have lost a yard of that blistering pace which set him apart from his contemporaries, but on his day, he can still be a world-class performer. He will probably never fully justify the huge fee forked out for him, much in the same way Andy Carroll won’t at Liverpool, but that doesn’t mean that he still can’t improve upon a rocky start and become an integral member of the side for the next few years.

Torres’ strengths are with the ball played into feet so that he can spin off his marker and run into space and Chelsea’s transfer dealings highlight a considered and deliberate attempt to adjust to their striker rather than the other way around. A record of 12 goals in 67 games shows that when this was tried, that it was far from successful. He needs players in and around him, otherwise he can become isolated and withdrawn.

There can at least be some reasoning for Torres’ failure at Stamford Bridge so far, he was playing in a style which suited Drogba rather than himself. Now that the club have built their side around him this coming season, it really is make or break time and the success of the side next season will largely be intertwined with the success of Fernando Torres. No pressure then.

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