Who Will Prevail At Chelsea? Fernando Torres or Demba Ba.
Fernando Torres has had a very disappointing four-month spell as Chelsea's main striker. Chairman Roman Abramovich has seemingly had enough. He has brought in Demba Ba to provide both Chelsea with another striking option and Torres with the attacking competition Abramovich feels the Spaniard needs to help him find his best form again.
At first glance, this appeared a good move for Chelsea. But does Torres always perform at his best when he is competing with someone for a place? And does Demba Ba enjoy being second choice behind another striker? History would suggest otherwise.
Fernando Torres: A Brief History
Torres spent three full seasons as a Liverpool player. Benitez always preferred a lone striker and three midfielders, so Torres was never given a genuine opportunity to be part of a striking partnership and seemed to prefer being a lone striker with Gerrard playing in behind him.
It was excellent for Liverpool to have one of the best strikers in world football at their disposal, but because Torres was always the main man, Benitez found it difficult to attract another striker of genuine quality. Torres had signed in the summer of 2007—a time when Liverpool had an attacking trio of Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt.
Bellamy was moved on after an underwhelming single season at the club; Kuyt was converted into a right-winger/forward, and Crouch's role became that of an impact sub, only lasting one more season before moving on to Portsmouth in search of regular starts. Torres, meanwhile, was exceptional, scoring 24 league goals in 33 games and becoming immediately vital to Liverpool's style of play.
The following season, 2008-09, Torres was equally prolific with 14 league goals but managed just 24 league games.
Liverpool mounted their only genuine title challenge in years and would probably have gone on to win it if Torres had been fit for more games. They struggled greatly without him because they lacked other options up front.
Then in 2009-10, Torres' last full season as a Liverpool player, he managed 18 in 22. It was an excellent return, but Liverpool still struggled greatly when he wasn't fit.
Throughout Torres' three full seasons at the club, Liverpool struggled to build a quality team of strikers around him, Dirk Kuyt, Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane, Ryan Babel and David N'Gog were all seemingly unfit to partner alongside him. The less said about Andriy Voronin the better. Torres was over-relied upon, and it turned out to be a massive problem for Liverpool.
They could not attract a striker of genuine quality because at this time every player knew if they signed for Liverpool, they would be playing second fiddle to the pacy Spaniard. It was a battle they were going to lose.
Nando's Chelsea Challenge
Since his move to Chelsea, his struggles have been well documented.
A desperate lack of form, sharpness and confidence have led to him becoming something of an unfortunate joke amongst football fans and pundits alike. Every one of his performances is over scrutinised and overanalysed. He was even mocked in some quarters for only managing one when Chelsea put eight past Aston Villa recently. Only when a striker is so heavily derided,will he be castigated for only managing to score once in a game.
His inability to play alongside the far more popular Didier Drogba hampered his Chelsea career for a year and a half. Then Drogba left, and whilst Di Matteo signed a host of attacking midfield talent over the summer break, he did not sign another striker.
Fernando Torres had clearly been promised a run as Chelsea's first choice. The only viable alternative was Daniel Sturridge but even he was injured, out of favour and eventually sold. This season he was set to come out of Drogba's legendary shadow to become Chelsea's No. 9.
At first it seemed as though it had paid off.
Chelsea started the season in exceptional form; Torres managed four goals and three assists in his first seven league games of the season. Torres—whilst no longer possessing his lightning acceleration of old—seemed to at least have regained some of his former confidence, enjoying the burden of being Chelsea's only genuine striking option in the early weeks of the season.
But then, after a promising start his form once again plummeted.
He went eight league games without a goal, and when Torres isn't scoring these days he offers very little else. He was no longer making his trademark runs in behind, and Mata and Hazard—the players signed to create for him—seemed reluctant to even give him the ball.
Rafa Benitez was brought in at the end of November to replace the outgoing Roberto Di Matteo. The Spaniard's appointment smacked of a desperate last ditch attempt from Abramovich to get the best out of Torres, and his performances did improve. He was excellent at Sunderland, scoring twice and assisting once.
The goals also flowed in other competitions: two against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League and a goal a piece against Monterrey in the Club World Cup and Leeds in the League Cup. He then returned to domestic action in reasonable form, leading the line well in the 8-0 drubbing of Villa a few days later, managing to score one. It looked as though Rafa had helped him rediscover some of the old confidence and panache.
But then his form deserted him again as suddenly as it had come. He now hasn't scored in his last four games.
To be fair, this should not be blown out of proportion. Four games without a goal is nothing. The real concern is that his overall game has gone way off the boil yet again. He can not seem to convert a brief purple patch of form to blossom into a consistent spell of decent play.
This is far more of a concern than a lack of goalscoring. When he is not scoring, he does not seem to want to play, and he seems to attempt to shirk responsibility and not try his hardest. English football fans can forgive a lack of goals but they can not forgive a lack of trying.
And once again, Fernando Torres seems unwilling to try
Now we come to Demba Ba, who is set to make his Premier League debut this weekend after scoring two against Southampton during his debut in the FA Cup and replacing Torres with 10 minutes to go against Swansea in the League Cup on Wednesday night.
Against Swansea, Torres laboured for 80 minutes.
Each poor touch and every misplaced pass was met with a groan from the Chelsea faithful. You could almost see him stealing a glance over to the bench, seemingly hopeful of seeing Ba warming up. Ba came on for the final 10 minutes and provided a level of threat that Chelsea had sorely lacked for the 80 minutes beforehand.
Ba is an excellent player, but you wonder why he has been signed.
Has he been signed to replace Torres? On current form he is a far superior player, but Roman Abramovich has not made a habit of making £7 million strikers the fulcrum of his team. At just £7 million Ba is undoubtedly a steal, but shrewd transfer operation has never really been the Chelsea owner's thing.
You also can't imagine he would sanction the signing of a £7 million striker with the intention of telling Benitez to use him to replace his £50 million marquee signing.
I do not agree with the notion that Benitez was only brought in to get the best out of Torres. Was it part of Abramovich's thought process? Yes. But to suggest he was only brought in to help get the best out of Torres would be to do Benitez a great disservice.
Torres vs. Ba
On current form, Ba should certainly start ahead of Fernando Torres at Stoke City on Saturday.
It is a game in which Torres may seem a bit lightweight. Ba is far better at holding up the ball and has history there after scoring a hat-trick at the Britannia last season.
But regardless of current form, Torres appears to have been promised at least a full season as Chelsea's main striker.
It is the only way to explain Chelsea's decision not to replace the outgoing Didier Drogba in the summer and to let Romelu Lukaku go out on loan. It seems unlikely that Abramovich would bring in Benitez to get the best out of Torres only to oust him a few weeks later with a £7 million striker when as recently as late December, Torres was actually showing some decent form.
If he was hoping Ba's arrival would have a positive effect on Torres—perhaps hoping the competition would up his game—it seems to have had the reverse effect. Torres was even more of a shadow than usual on Wednesday night against Swansea. At times he seemed like he was just waiting to be substituted.
The competition does not seem to suit him.
We also know from his time at Newcastle that Ba can play out wide to decent effect. It was something he did not want to do at Newcastle, but at a bigger club, he could surely not have reason to complain. No player can sign for a club of Chelsea's stature and expect to be an instant starter in his favoured position.
But then while he proved himself competent in a wide berth for Newcastle, he also proved he wasn't a goal threat from that position. Chelsea have far better options in those wide positions. It would be hard to imagine playing him there was part of the Abramovich-Benitez plan.
Ba vs. Torres
Based on all logical tactical reasoning, Demba Ba should be starting for Chelsea against Stoke on Saturday.
But then I still wouldn't be surprised if Torres started instead. Torres will not leave in January because no club in world football at the moment who can afford him would take him, bar an audacious swoop from PSG or Anzhi Makhachkala. All the signing of Demba Ba has done is further lower Torres' confidence and bring to a halt what was a decent run of December form.
Torres does not cope well when he is competing with strikers. So unless Ba has been brought in to replace him, his signing will only harm Torres and Chelsea further in the short term.
Ba is also a player who in recent times has shown he does not enjoy playing second fiddle to other players. The Senegalese international has clearly been signed as a striker, but it remains to be seen whether he is there to replace Torres or provide backup for the struggling Spaniard.
It would be surprising for Abramovich to lose such faith in Torres just halfway through a season that started out so promising. But then again, it wouldn't be the first time.