Torres and Drogba, match made in hell?

Posted: April 27, 2011 in Chelsea, Football Blogs, Premier League
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Carlo Ancelotti can now be forgiven for not being as enthusiastic as his fellow Chelsea colleagues on the arrival of a certain £50 million Spanish forward. Fernando Torres’ arrival has created a tactical nightmare for the experienced Italian and a nightmare that Ancelotti can’t seem to wake from.

I’m sure the likes of Ian Holloway would love such a dilemma, how to accommodate two world class strikers in starting eleven; but with each fixture that passes, Torres is looking more likely to be John Terry’s next love interest rather than opening his account for his new club. With no goal return on such a major transfer fee, numerous tactical changes from a formation that won the double the season before and pressure ever increasing on the Ancelotti has Torres’ acquisition come at a too higher cost?

Before ‘El Níno’ joined Chelsea, they played a very successful 4-3-3 formation with Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda playing as attacking wingers supporting Didier Drogba.

During their stays in the Premier League, both Torres and Drogba have thrived as the main options in the attack. Indeed, during the same period Drogba has scored 51 goals in the league, and injuries limited him to less than 20 appearances during the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 seasons. While at Chelsea, his strike partners have at times included Andriy Shevchenko, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou, Hernan Crespo, Eidur Gudjohnsen, and Claudio Pizarro. All have had varying degrees of productivity, and it would be silly to disregard players with pedigrees like Anelka.

But it is clear that Drogba has been the primary figure, and is almost always the first choice. The same is true of Torres during his time on Merseyside. At times paired with Dirk Kuyt, Robbie Keane, and David N’Gog, Torres has benefited as the most talented striker, and received the most service.  Keane’s short spell at Anfield showed that Torres had problems developing an understanding with the Irishman, preferring the 4-2-3-1 Benitez usually employed before Keane’s arrival.

With Keane, a tried and tested top flight scorer, it was thought that Torres and Keane could lead the line and Liverpool could employ a 4-4-2. This period was the only time Torres was forced to play in a 4-4-2 on a frequent basis, but because Benitez quickly went cold on Keane, the current West Ham front man  spent most of his time on the bench anyway, leaving Torres again in his role as lone striker. 

Both Drogba and Torres have worked well with an influential midfielder who can move up into attack, in the form of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, respectively. Both strikers can hold the ball up for these two with their backs turned to goal, and also make runs to receive passes from the midfielders. As we have seen with the aforementioned Keane, some strikers are simply cut out, or thrive, in certain formations; for example Keane struggles as a lone striker and plays much better in a 4-4-2.

With Roman Abramovich having invested £75 million in the club in January when the spending spree seemed to already have been over after a summer of cost cutting, the Russian owner will be eager to see his new employee provide some returns. The pressure is on Ancelotti to successfully utilise Torres while also keeping Drogba happy and scoring goals. Making it even harder is the form of Nicolas Anelka, who has scored 16 goals for the Blues in all competitions this year, with a crucial 7 in the Champions League.

After initially dropping Drogba for Torres, and switching back and forth with both as the lone striker in the usual 4-2-3-1, Ancelotti opted for a 4-4-2 against Manchester United in the 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge. Anelka paired up with Torres up top, with Drogba again relegated to the bench, but the Ivory Coast captain came on for Anelka after a listless hour of work for the Frenchman. Although Chelsea won the match, the 4-4-2 seemed to limit their offensive potential and had the aura of square pegs being forced into round holes.

The forwards struggled for understanding, and Frank Lampard was unable to push and attack as much as he would have liked without the security of two holding midfielders behind him; Lampard is usually at his best when playing, like Gerrard, almost as a second striker, and in the 4-4-2 he is a much more box-to-box player who must take care of his defensive duties to avoid the midfield being overrun on the counter attack. Torres and Anelka cannot really play on the wing, and Drogba has never really been a fan of being positioned there.

It seems the old adage persists that the team cannot be changed for one player, but then again if Torres, Drogba and Anelka did develop an understanding, and adapted to the 4-4-2, Ancelotti would have two world class strikers to pick from every match, and one on the bench, along with the pacey and occasionally skilful Kalou. This, though, could weaken the effect of Lampard, even if the diamond variation of the 4-4-2 is used, because Ramires is more of a central defensive midfielder rather than a winger, even if Michael Essien or John Obi Mikel are more than capable of shielding the back four.

Keane, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, and many others have not only played in a 4-4-2 for almost all of their professional careers, but have also been nurtured with the formation and know it like the back of their hand. If Torres and Drogba can adapt their game and learn to play together remains to be seen, but a total overhaul of a squad and system that has been so effective seems short sighted and dangerous, even for such a talented arrival like Torres, especially when it will take time to optimise their abilities with the end of the season growing ever closer.

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