Chelsea: 5 Things That Must Change for Fernando Torres to Succeed
Although the forward is assuredly having his best campaign yet in the blue of Chelsea, one could still understand why more would be expected of the man that came to Stamford Bridge for an astronomical £50 million.
In the humdrum business that is modern football, both players and managers come and go on a more routine basis than ever, but Fernando Torres' price-tag means that more urgency is expected of Torres in his bid for success.
The former Atletico Madrid and Liverpool superstar is yet to really hit the heights reached at former clubs during his Chelsea tenure despite being in the prime of his life, meaning something has to give in the coming months.
Before the Spaniard uses up the patience of all those around him and proves his transfer value to be justified, things must change from a player’s, manager’s and fan’s perspective in order to resurrect the Torres of old.
All statistics come via EPLIndex.com.
Don’t Shy Away from Experimentation
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
With just three wins in their last eight fixtures across all competitions, it’s times such as this where pressure is greater than ever for Chelsea to turn their luck around, a great responsibility of which lies with Rafael Benitez.
So far this season, the Blues have utilised a variation of the 4-5-1 formation (4-2-3-1) in order to accommodate the strengths they can boast of in midfield.
In that essence, Benitez hasn’t really sought to revolutionise the legacy left behind by Roberto Di Matteo and taken on an “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, and rightly so, some might say.
However, the 4-2-3-1 tactic and the utilisation of a “false 9” is a growing trend in modern football and would appear to be the flavour of the month for many a European side. As an elite side and current champions of Europe, it’s up to teams such as Chelsea to be at the forefront of strategy, ever conscious of trends and how to outmanoeuvre them.
As the focal point of such a formation, Fernando Torres perhaps feels the sting of a tactic being sussed out more than any, marked out of the game and finding fortune hard to come by against opposing defences, as we’ve seen this season.
As a result, now might be the time for Benitez to be more scrutinous than ever and accept that perhaps it isn’t Torres’ incapability that’s the cause for his underachieving, but more that he may be a victim of circumstance.
During their years at Liverpool together, Benitez and Torres enjoyed relative success under 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 formations with players such as Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt and Robbie Keane all helping their strike partner up top.
With Demba Ba now at the club, Benitez has at his disposal the means to craft a wonderfully gifted attack provided the two can combine well, but having the confidence to try such a risk in a time of need is a different matter all together.
Although the likes of Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard, Oscar, Victor Moses and others have been great for portions of the campaign, Chelsea’s boss might need to drop one or more in-form player in order to accommodate Torres and revive the best form of a forward once looked upon as one of the best in the world.
Lampard Replacement of Utmost Importance
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
While the talents of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar are unquestionably great to watch and hold vast potential, it’s further down the field that perhaps influences the Chelsea attack most, however nonsensical it may seem.
In Frank Lampard, Chelsea have had a reliable, international standard midfield lynchpin capable of breaking up the attack before picking that one ball seeking to unlock defence with seeming ease; something they no longer have.
That isn’t to say that Ramires and John Obi Mikel don’t offer decent outlets in the centre of the park, but with Frank Lampard now 34 years of age, there doesn’t exist the same steel in the Blues’ engine room.
At Anfield, Fernando Torres developed a partnership alongside Steven Gerrard that some managers spend their entire careers searching for.
This flourishing combination never benefitted one half of the pair more than the other, but was a much more organic piece of teamwork that was discontinued upon the former’s move to West London.
With the veteran apparently edging his way towards the Chelsea exit (via BBC Sport), it would seem that now, more than ever, is where Rafa Benitez’ side need to find the heir to the Lampard throne, not least of which for Torres’ sake.
As things stand, it’s Mikel and Ramires that account for the deep-lying ‘2’ in the current 4-2-3-1 formation, but neither midfielder holds the all-round qualities exerted by the likes of Gerrard and Lampard in their primes.
In Josh McEachran and Michael Essien, both currently on loan away from the club, Chelsea have two players they can at least hope might fill that particular void, albeit for different time frames, respectively.
Squad Rotation Is Key
Clive Rose/Getty Images
For the last six months if not more, Fernando Torres has had the unprecedented pleasure of, for the majority of the time, being able to boast a starting forward spot with an elite European club despite not scoring many goals.
That could easily all change now that Demba Ba calls himself a Blue.
Much like Torres, Ba comes to West London having enjoyed a very enviable goal ratio at St. James’ Park and, having cost just a fraction of Torres’ transfer fee. Ba hasn’t quite the same expectations placed upon him either.
Regardless of whether he cost £50 million or not, now is the time for Torres to realize that he isn’t pardoned from exclusion, if he hasn’t done so already.
Straight after coming into the Chelsea setup, Ba was handed a debut start against Stoke City, perhaps showing that Benitez isn’t as biased towards Torres as some supposed he might be.
However, it’s this selection based on form theory that needs to be handled expertly by the Spanish manager if Chelsea are to persist in playing with only one striker in their line-up.
Benitez now has to decide when it is the right time to continue hoping for the best with Torres even when his play suggests he should do otherwise, and when it is the best time to punish his compatriot by relegating him to a bench spot.
With the competition now well and truly up against him, Torres will need to react well to the notion of rejection in favour of his Senegalese teammate; a by-product of the Ba deal that could do the forward a world of good in terms of development.
True Grit and Determination
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
A common worry in modern football is that the amount of money some of these players find themselves on can make them slightly complacent, a notion that’s easy to understand for some.
Of course, age can bring with it the best of a player’s abilities, but unless said athlete maintains the desire to get the best out of himself, then such talent will ultimately go to waste.
Although not in direct correlation, one of the ways we can see Torres has changed since moving to Chelsea is in the increase in the more physical side of things, more specifically, tackling.
According to EPLIndex.com, Torres was a far more eager presence on the pitch in his last two-and-a-half seasons at Liverpool, averaging a ground challenge every 7.7, 7.27 and 7.24 minutes in the 2008-09, 09-10 and 10-11 seasons, respectively.
This is compared to the rate of challenging for a ground duel every 9.74 minutes the Spaniard is currently accounting for in the 2012-13 campaign.
Such statistics mean that the striker is more than two minutes slower in hustling the opponent for the ball, and while there are a series of other variables to consider in the equation, this particular aspect of Torres’ game would appear to point to a much less excitable figure.
Such numbers seem all the more saddening to a Chelsea fan when you consider that the likes of Luis Suarez and Carlos Tevez are averaging much closer to the six-minute mark and enjoying more success, arguably as a direct result of their tenacity.
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Although fans and managers can change all within their power in order to help a player like Fernando Torres, the public nature of today’s sport means that the fans have their say too.
However hard it may be to hear, Chelsea and Torres fans alike need to know one thing: Fernando Torres is not the same player he was three, four or five years ago, and there’s a good chance he might not be again.
On countless occasions a player has spiked at the wrong time, and as a result, failed to cope with the expectations heaped upon his shoulders after moving to a club of a much more cutthroat nature.
While the £50 million laid out for Fernando Torres' signature may inspire a slightly more frustrated feeling, one might just have to accept that Torres isn’t going to improve while under his current constraints. In fact, at this stage, the less expectation associated with his performances, the better it will ultimately be for the Blues.
Admittedly, this might sound like a no-brainer, but the easiest things to do are often the hardest things to actually put into effect.
The fact is that some players hit their playing primes at difference stages in their careers. For the majority, this can be counted on to occur between the ages of 27 and 31, extrapolated further for a goalkeeper perhaps.
At 28 years of age, Torres has already enjoyed good spells with Atletico Madrid where he earned his nickname “El Niño” before seeing further fortune with Liverpool as well with the Spanish national side.
You can rest assured that the World Cup winner is aware of exactly what it is that he needs to do. But playing in the unique circumstances he finds himself in, we should understand the nerves he feels every time he steps onto that pitch.