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Width Restriction Jams Champions League Hopes for Fernando Torres and Chelsea

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Fernando Torres of Chelsea looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Chelsea at Craven Cottage on February 14, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Jon NaylorSenior Analyst IFebruary 14, 2011

As Steve Claridge succinctly put it on Radio 5 Live, "If you want to know how to make a £50m player look rubbish, you've seen it there twice."

The start of Fernando Torres' career at Chelsea hasn't been as smooth as he would have liked. A defeat to former club Liverpool and a draw with West London rivals Fulham have exposed Carlo Ancelotti's difficulties in housing his new star striker. 

For all their chances and possession, Chelsea were fortunate to escape Craven Cottage with a draw this Valentine's Day after a late penalty save from Petr Cech, and their stalemate against Fulham will leave Fernando Torres less than enamoured with the systems employed by his new boss.

All of this frustration for Chelsea fans boil down to one key factor: tactics.

Chelsea's current squad have been moulded in Mourinho's image—most of these players were bought and played in a 4-3-3 that won trophy after trophy. They even won the double in a 4-3-3 last season and, playing with Drogba as the spearhead and Anelka and Malouda providing the width, Chelsea smashed through several teams in August and September.

Now Torres has been bought, Ancelotti has tried two different systems and has been met with two failures. A 4-4-2 diamond with Anelka playing behind Drogba and Torres was strangled by Liverpool's three centre backs. A 4-3-2-1 "Christmas Tree" was throttled in midfield by Fulham.

These two formations hold a vital similarity that is failing to get the most out of Torres: width. Be it diamonds or Christmas trees, all the play is focused down the middle of the park, depriving Torres of the service that he could thrive on.

Torres also looks increasingly isolated up front in these formations, a symptom that led to so much frustration in the Hodgson era at Liverpool.

Narrow play also makes Chelsea incredibly easy to play against. Packing the midfield, a tactic already employed by teams looking to stifle the title chasers, works against either system.

Ancelotti tried a 4-4-2 diamond when he first arrived at the club and it failed. When he switched back to 4-3-3, they recovered and picked up a League and Cup double. The Chelsea manager has made it public that he is still searching for the right system to play to get the most out of Torres—he certainly hasn't found it yet 

If the speculation is correct and Roman Abramovich drove the Torres signing, it could actually have the reverse effect of his intentions.

Torres could end up replacing Drogba at the end of the season. Until then, it seems that either he or the Ivorian will end up sitting on the bench if Chelsea are to emerge with any credit from 2010-11.

How would Torres feel if the club he joined to play in Europe's elite competition failed to earn a Champions League berth next season? With Spurs ahead having played the same number of matches and games running out, this cruel irony is a very real possibility.  

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