After Chelsea striker Fernando Torres ended a 12-and-half hour spell without a goal in the Premier League with a brace during the 3-1 win away at Sunderland, he argued that the team’s slightly more direct style of play suited him more and was responsible for his changing fortunes in front of goal, so is this something which the club should look to adopt to try and get the best out of the Spaniard in the future?
It seems that the goalposts have been continually moved with concerns to the player Torres is now and what sort of style of play suits him. When Didier Drogba was at the club, the side appeared to have an ingrained style of play, knocking it up to the big Ivorian and utilising his physical presence to its fullest and this was used as an excuse for the former Liverpool man’s struggles.
However, with a radical shift in style and formation, finally moving away from the style that Mourinho tailored to the club, to a more cultured, possession-based 4-2-3-1 formation with Torres at its spearhead, the striker struggled yet again. Now, though, he claims that he prefers a more direct approach. Confused yet? You should be.
After the Sunderland game, Torres told BBC 5 Live: “We are playing a bit differently now. We do not pass the ball as much as we did in the final third and we play a bit more direct. It was a long time not to score. We are attacking more and creating more. Normally, it takes some time with a new manager but the last two results will give us more confidence.”
Cast your mind back to the start of the season, though, and after a good start to the campaign, Torres offered this somewhat contradictory statement back in late September, telling Sky Sports: “I enjoy more this season. The kind of players I have behind me has given me a lot of support. I have to improve to create more and more chances for the team. I’m scoring more. The team still have a big way to improve. Not just me – everyone. I think we’re showing as a team with this different style of football this season we’re in the top. We can dream with a very good system again.”
Is the return to a more direct approach not simply a step backwards in terms of the evolution of the team to a more attractive, aesthetically-pleasing style of play? It seems Torres can’t make up his mind about what gets the best out of him these days. There is no secret solution; he is shorn of the game-changing pace which once set him apart, yet he still thrives on slightly more direct service than he’s been receiving this term, like he enjoyed at times at Liverpool, helping him to catch defenders off guard.
The reasoning itself is completely different, mind you – before, the earlier the ball was played, the more space Torres had to run into and stretch his legs with his blistering acceleration, whereas now, because he’s lost so much of it, the closer he can be to them by the time the ball is played, and the earlier it’s sent his way, the more chance of the back four being in a poor position to cope with it is and his movement will allow him that extra yard’s head start that he so often needs these days.
Mata seemed to buy into the argument that Torres is better with players in and around when he told French magazine So Foot last week about the difference between Drogba and the 28-year-old now leading the line: “Drogba’s departure was like an electric shock for us. He was a warrior.We’ve had to learn to cope without him because for many long years he was Chelsea’s lightning conductor. With Drogba we were conditioned to play in a certain way. You gave him the ball and you knew that he would at least force the opponent into a foul. In a way we had a tendency to rely on him too much but it was a natural mechanism. All the great players like getting the ball, Didier even more so. With Fernando it’s different. His runs aren’t the same. He’s not a funnel for our play like Drogba could be. He doesn’t like the holding-it-up role. He prefers finding space and facing the goal.”
The school of thinking that due to Torres’ decreasing pace that he would prefer players in and around him with quick one-touch football has become an accepted one this season and a style that Roberto Di Matteo staked his job on being a success. We all know how that one turned out.
Nevertheless, when you look back across his career, Torres has never been the man to play with his back to goal, looking for ball into feet, which explains the lack of goal threat he now carries as he’s tried to adjust. At international level for Spain, he was valued so highly precisely because he was different to everyone else in the side, like a coil waiting to unfurl at a moment’s notice after all the Swiss precision of their patient build-up play.
He’s a huge confidence player, and with four goals in his last two games, we could be set for another spell of the ‘has he finally turned the corner’ debate. The answer is probably not. He’ll go on these little spells of form, displaying shades of the sort of clinical form that made him the most feared striker in Europe at one point, but like a hazy memory, or Jonathan Creek cracking a mystery while looking wistfully off into the distance, they are only glimmers of a former self, something untouchable, just out of reach in the distance.
It’s not as if his return this season is woeful, it just lacks the sort of consistency needed – six goals in 16 league appearances, with 11 coming in 25 appearances across all competitions means he’s probably on track for around 20-25 goals for the campaign, but whether that remains enough for a title push is in some doubt, hence the repeated links to Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao.
The Torres of old and the version we have today are two completely different players, but intriguingly, the way to unlocking what talent remains in those tired and heavy legs could be a return to a style of play that suited him at his peak, but for very different reasons.
That the team’s overall style may have to regress in pursuit of an answer to the Spaniard’s decline is ironic given that their new brand of football and summer transfer business appeared like a deliberate attempt be get the best ouf of him; timing has never been his strongest point since moving to Stamford Bridge, but a solution of sorts could just be found in the past and perhaps Rafa Benitez is just the right man to find it after all.