“When you join a club you want to do the best for yourself and for that club. That’s all,” said Fernando Torres on signing for Chelsea on the deadline day last month. Despite Liverpool fans’ angry protests, the player had no obligation to the Merseyside club above and beyond the contract he signed in 2007.
Indeed, moving clubs is no “betrayal” and even if fans label Torres a “Judas” the Merseyside club certainly got its thirty pieces of silver – the £50 million fee Chelsea paid for the 26-year-old striker. Moreover, Liverpool signed Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll to replace Torres, bolstering an infamously thin squad and replacing the non-firing Spaniard with two decent alternatives. It was a transfer that made sense – even if the American-owned club paid two astronomical fees for Suarez and Carroll.
The move makes sense for the London club as well, although perhaps not in the short-term. With Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka now beyond 30, Chelsea needed someone younger to take over the striking mantle.
However, Torres’s introduction could make an already brittle Chelsea side even easier to beat. After all, neither Anelka nor Drogba are even-tempered and each is liable to throw a tantrum or two should a spell on the bench result from the incoming striker.
Even if the existing strikers accept the situation, assimilation of the former Liverpool player remains an issue for Carlo Ancelotti. There’s a reason most clubs do their transfer businesses in the close season. Matches start to pile up around this time of year – especially for the top clubs that fight on multiple fronts. Managers begin to curtail training to ease the physical toil and to prevent injuries. With less time on the training pitch, new signings find it harder to blend in, although there is pressure to fully use the new player, in hope that the team will eventually gel.
Winter transfers are much more realistic for smaller clubs though, especially troubled sides fighting relegation. Assuming that the fee is reasonable, a mid-season purchase represents less of a gamble than for the top sides. Also, smaller clubs tend to use less sophisticated tactics than the giants of the game; easier tactics, easier integration.
Chelsea, on the other hand, is helmed by Ancelotti – and even a tactician as renowned as the former AC Milan manager will find the prospect of keeping Anelka, Drogba and Torres happy challenging. The Italian could choose a variant of standard 4-4-2, although it is difficult to implement at Chelsea because the London club lacks a player to play wide right bar, perhaps, Ramires and Michael Essien. Either is simply a temporary fix.
At AC Milan, Ancelotti used decidedly central systems such as 4-3-1-2, but such narrow formations are hard to use in the Premier League. For one, width is sacred to most English clubs. Yet, systems with wide midfielders or wingers can pin back full-backs and render narrow systems completely toothless.
Moreover, Chelsea has no one that can play the trequartista role that is essential in formations such as 4-3-1-2 and 4-4-2 diamond. Frank Lampard is a sound player technically but even he does not have that oomph required for the role. Arguably, the Englishman is too ‘box-to-box’ to play with his back to goal.
This argument similarly applies to Anelka and others – as Ancelotti’s previous flirtations with formations show, Chelsea simply doesn’t have the players to make narrow systems work.
Manchester United hasn’t yet played Chelsea this season but considering that the Reds have fared well against Arsenal in recent seasons, two upcoming games against the West Londoners will likely decide whether Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit can win a 19th league title. As things stand, the trophy appears inevitable.
Should Tottenham Hotspur maintain excellent recent form, Torres – whose rationale for the move was to play in the Champions League – might well return to the Europa League next season. What a delicious irony.