This Tuesday night in the final round of the Champions League group fixtures throws together an intriguing battle, in more ways than one, as Chelsea take on Valencia at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have to avoid defeat, or a draw 0-0 against the Spanish club if they are to progress; Valencia need a win or force a score-draw, to advance to the knock-out stages of the competition. What makes the tie even more fascinating is that it pits two Spanish gunslingers in direct opposition of each other, both aiming for a prize which goes beyond Tuesday’s Champions League advancement; a place in next summer’s Spanish squad for Euro 2012.
As Chelsea’s Fernando Torres and Valencia’s Roberto Soldado go head-to-head, both strikers could not have had a more contrasting year. 2011 has saw one of the most dramatic falls from grace ever witnessed on a football field for Torres, whilst Soldado’s stock continues to rise at an impressive rate. It’s true that there were troubling signs in Torres’ form months before he decided to swap the red of Liverpool, for the blue of Chelsea back in January, in search of ‘career advancement’. But if the striker looked to blame his loss of form and his apparent lack of appetite for the game on the turmoil that surrounded the Anfield club at the time, he was proved very much mistaken. He has somehow managed to fall even further, enduring a nightmare time thus far since his British record £50million move, appearing to have lost all self-confidence and belief which once helped him become the most feared striker in Europe. Whilst wearing the blue of Chelsea, Torres has scored just 5 times in the 34 games he’s played (in all competitions) – and has received as many yellow cards as goals.
Whilst his drastic loss of form has been as mystifying as it is blatant for all to see, what is getting even more mystifying, with every passing week, is Roberto Soldado’s lack of inclusion in the Spanish national team set-up so far this year. After all, his statistics are blatant for all to see. Since joining his hometown club in 2010, Soldado has been a goalscoring machine and become a talisman. During his first season he netted 18 times from his 34 appearances in La Liga, and this season has increased his rate, notching 9 in 15 games. His Champions League credentials are mightily impressive too with 12 goals coming from just 15 games. To look at it another way, this year the hitman from Valencia has hit the target 26 times in his past 28 appearances across all competitions; a rate that is comparable with the likes of Robin van Persie, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – players who have been lauded week in, week out for their goalscoring exploits this season. If he carries on at this rate, surely Vicente Del Bosque, Spain’s mild-mannered national team coach cannot ignore him for much longer – and if Torres carries on at his current rate, should come at his expense?
Torres has so far been spared the final indignity of being overlooked by the national team, but for how long can he live on past glories? It’s been rumoured in the Spanish media that the only reason for Torres’ continued inclusion in the national team over Soldado is down to his Madrid connections – where he was born, raised and captained Atletico Madrid. The argument falls down slightly when you consider Soldado himself spent 8 years in the Spanish capital, first as a youth-teamer, then progressing all the way through to the first team with Real Madrid. However one can’t help but start to think there may be something in it, as the weeks pass by and Soldado continues to impress. Of course Torres isn’t the only striker included in any Spanish squad so why should be the one to make way? Simple. The other strikers are performing. Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo is central to everything good the club does, whilst the powerful Fernando Llorente continues to improve and impress, especially under Marcelo Bielsa’s guidance at Athletic Bilbao. With his 2011 form to go by, Torres appears to be living off his reputation – but what a reputation it is.
They used to say a striker had done his job if he scored, but that is no longer the case – and was never really the case with Fernando Torres, who offered so much more. This old adage has no relevance in Spain today, as the country who promotes the use of the false-9 formation. Strikers must do more than simply wait for a goalscoring opportunity, and the Torres of old would be one to be involved in all attacking build-ups. He was never a great goalscorer at international level, however he has scored decisive goals – including the one hailed as the most important in the country’s history; in the final at Euro 2008 which ended Spain’s tag as the ‘nearly men’.
Whilst Torres may not be an automatic first choice in Spain’s starting XI, a situation that stretches back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he is still being called up – and currently it appears to be at the expense of Soldado. When they met earlier on in the season, the game finished 1-1 with Torres unlucky not to score whilst Soldado hit the Valencia goal. When the two meet on Tuesday night, the protagonist maybe firing himself through to both club AND country European glory in 2012.
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