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TFC’s set-piece execution overwhelms Biello’s Montreal Impact

Toronto FC leaned towards training ground execution to avenge last year’s MLS playoff exit to rivals Montreal Impact with an emphatic 5-2 victory at BMO Field. If Gregg Vanney didn’t receive plaudits for TFC improvement this season, then this two-legged fixture ensures that he should have very few critics going forward.

Falling to a three goal deficit with nearly half and hour remaining at Olympic Stadium should have placed Mauro Biello’s Impact within touching distance of an MLS Cup appearance, but Vanney’s tactical shifts – moving from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-2-1, and then finally to a 3-4-1-2 – resulted in two away goals from Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Though Vanney’s alterations ignited a response, identifying a ploy to avoid a similar first half outcome at BMO Field presented a test of his tactical acumen.

Opposed to straying away from the 3-5-2, Vanney’s sole change involved Will Johnson moving into midfield ahead of Jonathan Osorio. Biello, on the other hand, named the same starting XI for the fifth consecutive match, which heavily relies on the counter-attacking threat of the wide players, and the midfield trio’s ability to protect the centre of the pitch.

One of the issues TFC encountered from open play last week was their intent to simply dump balls into Altidore. Although the American international can operate as genuine target-man upfront, Altidore can simply be classified as an all-rounder at this level if you exclude his play-making skills.

Where Sebastian Giovinco once again dominated headlines throughout the regular season, Altidore was arguably the most impactful TFC player during the latter stages of the season and this current playoff run. With so much attention emphasized on negating Giovinco’s threat upfront, Altidore received additional space around the final third to influence the match.

Altidore quickly imposed his authority on the match within the opening six minutes, as Clint Irwin’s basic punt saw TFC striker shrug off Laurent Ciman and Victor Cabrera only to see Marco Donadel’s last-ditch recovering tackle prevent Giovinco from a potential opener. Ciman was subsequently booked for hauling down Altidore, and therefore it was unsurprising to see the American’s surging run into the box earn the corner that led to Armando Cooper’s equalizer.

The other aspect of Altidore’s impressive performance was the American’s work-rate out of possession. There were moments when the American tracked runs near the TFC box to help the hosts regain possession and charge forward. It was refreshing to see Altidore find ways to contribute on both ends given that the two sides were so familiar with the opposition that they often negated threats from open play.

Johnson was selected to offer improved protection of the back four to cope with Montreal’s threat on the counter. Meanwhile, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow were cautious with their positioning, which also limited the away side’s threat down the flanks. However, despite Vanney’s minor adjustments, Matteo Mancosu still held off defenders and drove towards goal to create Dominic Oduro’s opener, subsequent to Patrice Bernier dispossessing Bradley at the halfway line.

Although Montreal increased their lead via another counter-attack, TFC still failed to bypass the away side’s narrow positioning ahead of the box. Frankly, TFC’s productivity from open play was tedious, as they were unable to provide a legitimate solution to the Impact’s shape. Nonetheless, Vanney’s alternative rested in training ground set-piece work: a day prior, the Reds reportedly spent additional time fine-tuning set-piece procedures.

The Impact back-line were shaky from the opening whistle, and here, they simply couldn’t cope with TFC’s aerial threats. TFC regained the lead in an eight-minute spell that witnessed Nick Hagglund and Jozy Altidore rise above their marker to connect with Giovinco’s corners – the former’s header was cleared off the line only for the rebound to be converted by Cooper.

Oddly enough, when TFC opted to retreat in their half, Biello’s wide-men easily equalized. Following an uneventful opening half, Oduro and Piatti adopted narrow shapes, and were within close proximity of the midfielders to receive service and run at the TFC defence. Piatti and substitute Venegas combined for the equalizer, thus forcing Vanney to react.

Vanney summoned Johnson for Tosaint Ricketts and moved to a 3-4-3 with Giovinco moving to the left flank – the front three were interchanging throughout; Giovinco moved laterally across the final third with Altidore and Ricketts predominantly in the box – and risked being exploited on the counter against the Impact’s deep defensive line.

Oduro and Piatti may have spurned quality chances in transition, but the Impact remained susceptible to crosses in the box. Hagglund put TFC ahead from another corner kick, whereas a piece of individual brilliance rom Altidore to evade two Impact players nearly won the game. As the Impact tired, it was only logical that TFC kept flooding the box, and it was fitting that substitute Benoit Cheyrou – introduced for the injured Giovinco – and Ricketts converted deliveries from six-yards out.

Perhaps Vanney’s preference to persist with TFC’s base shape never resulted in success, but mid game fine-tuning proved decisive, nonetheless. Giovinco’s minimal influence over both legs illustrates the overall depth of the side, but equally highlighted Altidore’s significance to the club.

Defensive solidity is commonly associated with a title-winner, and though TFC were poor in that respect, Vanney’s attention-to-detail and tactical prowess witnessed the Reds manager utilize width and set-piece efficiency to overcome set-backs. On recent evidence, even if the opposition identifies a solution to limit Giovinco’s threat, TFC possess the resilience, and ample goal-scoring options to win games.

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Posted by on December 3, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Chelsea’s new system faces potential halt against energetic Spurs

What a difference a few weeks make. Ask Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side and they’ll provide a detailed summary.

Consecutive losses to Liverpool and Arsenal left many questioning Conte’s merit as an elite manager, whilst declaring the Blues out of the title race before it really began. Now, they sit top of the Premier League, scoring 17 goals and recording six clean sheets in that span, yet all it took was a simple tactical shift following the arrival of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso.

Chelsea now look like a well-equipped machine with all the tools capable of mounting a legitimate title challenge, and finally stepping away from the Jose Mourinho aura that’s incessantly floated around West London for over a decade. Unlike the Portuguese manager’s initial departure – where the Blues failed to find a new identity – Conte has stamped his philosophy at Stamford Bridge in a fair manner.

But the significant feat in Conte’s brief success in England was his overall approach to the situation. Roman Abramovich’s rash decisions to freely sack managers based on the club’s form was no secret to the Italian, yet he still carried forward in a pragmatic manner.

Avoiding the mistake of attempting to make initial drastic alterations like Andre Villas-Boas and Filipe Luiz Scolari, two foreign managers that were hired based on success abroad was wise. Also, Conte couldn’t rely on Mourinho’s failed approach like previous managers, so the Italian simply offered the players a chance to prove their worth in a defensive-oriented 4-1-4-1 heavily based around structure.

The Blues simply didn’t possess the personnel to operate in the 4-2-4 Conte previously deployed prior to his appointment at Juventus. Moreover, Conte also didn’t have the centre-back options to accommodate the 3-5-2 that was successful during his tenure in Turin. A 4-1-4-1, on the other hand, was logical because the Blues simply didn’t have a No.10 that could dominate or win games in a free role.

Interestingly, this was the default Chelsea system till the turn of the decade due to the abundance of top-class central midfielders at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti attempted to stray away from the system with some success with a 4-4-2 diamond and eventually the 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree system, but Conte doesn’t possess similar quality midfielders.

This has to do with the West London clubs brief obsession with diminutive technically gifted players following their Champions League triumph. Chelsea moved to a 4-2-3-1 and were slowly playing captivating football but were retrospectively feeble in central areas, lacking a creative cog and ball-winner to protect the back four.

Although Chelsea enjoyed a perfect start to the Conte era, the performances weren’t convincing, as the Blues struggled to create chances from open play. Ultimately, individual lapses and a peculiar defensive approach – sitting off technically gifted dynamic sides and not applying pressure in their own half – left many questioning the quality of current crop of players and Conte’s ability to succeed overseas.

Consecutive dropped points could serve as in indicator that change was required, and it was certainly beneficial that injuries in key areas enabled Conte’s system alteration without dissent. Two of last season’s major underachievers Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic were eased out of the XI, and though John Terry started the season well, at some point this season Conte would have to consider a future without the Chelsea captain.

Conte tried it their way and Chelsea were played off the park by potential title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, and more worryingly conceded eight goal in three games. With Terry and Ivanovic injured, and Fabregas failing to impress like many Chelsea supporters hoped he would against former club Arsenal, Conte’s switch to a 3-4-2-1 was not only logical, but desperately required.

Frankly, late deadline day signings were possibly acquired specifically for this system. Marcos Alonso was one of Serie A’s standout defenders in a left wing-back role for Fiorentina last season, whereas David Luiz impact with and out of possession is significant.

Luiz’s most recent display against Middlesborough striker Alvaro Negredo displayed astute defending and the aggression that’s not associated with the Brazilian. Likewise, the 29-year-old’s proficient passing typifies the defender as deep-lying playmaker from centre-back, as he consistently builds plays with long diagonals into the channel – this is also essential due to Fabregas’ exclusion deprived the XI of a genuine ball-player in deep zones.

More so, Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 frees Eden Hazard of lengthy defensive duties – now he roams into central positions from the left, drifts into space in the channels, and is beginning to shoot more, which is significant to his world-class form. Pedro Rodriguez is also familiar with coming off the right flank and utilizing his speed to break beyond the defence in a three-man attack.

The midfield duo consisting of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic is built around dynamism and quickly regaining possession, thus providing the Blues with the solid base they’ve lacked in recent years. Meanwhile, Diego Costa’s rediscovered the goal-scoring form that widely regards the Spanish international as one of the best strikers in the sport.

“Diego is a very good player,” Conte said. “It’s important for me, for his teammates, to see that in every game, Diego works a lot with the ball and without the ball. He’s an example for all. And I want to continue this way.

“If he continues to score, I’ll be very happy. But I’ll be happier to see this commitment, this work-rate during training and in games, to work with the team with and without the ball. If all the players are able to think in this way, it’s fantastic and we’ll be a good team, a very tough team to play.

But possibly the most fascinating aspect of Conte’s shift is their current run of clean sheets. Once proving to be a pair prone to mistakes, Luiz and Gary Cahill have been near flawless, and Cesar Azpilicueta has adapted superbly to an exterior centre-back role. Elsewhere, Alonso and Moses offer proper balance at wing-back: Moses is a tricky dribbler, while Alonso’s crosses from the left are consistently dangerous.

Modern day Premier League teams predominantly utilize three-man defences as a reactive system to the opposition, but Conte’s Chelsea are currently bucking the trend. Coincidentally, this week’s MLS East final showcased the potential risk in wide areas when playing a back-three, yet even in this respect, Luiz and Azpilicueta’s recovery runs negate this threat. But similar to the last time Chelsea were defeated in the league, upcoming fixtures against Spurs and Manchester City will provide proper tests.

Evidently, Chelsea improved in every area subsequent to the formation switch, but their performances are equally reminiscent of a genuine title contender. Conte’s men have comfortably dispatched of Everton, Leicester, and Manchester United at home, whereas their away wins at Hull, Southampton and Middlesborough were professional and tidy, thoroughly displayed defensively solidity and togetherness.

In particular, this weekend’s derby with the former should be cagey following Chelsea’s late recovery which put an end to Spurs’ title run at the conclusion of last season. Mauricio Pochettino’s men can match Chelsea’s strength in midfield with Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama, congest the box with Vincent Janssen’s presence, or even rely on the intricate passing and vertical threat of Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Still, it will be interesting to see how the Spurs manager attempts to halt the Blues’ fine form.

“It’s a good challenge for us to go and play them at the moment,” said Pochettino. “They are in very good form. They have a great manager that I know very well and they have great players too,”

“It’s an advantage not being involved in European competition or the cups now. They have time to train and develop their philosophy. They are, not only in England but in Europe, the team most in form today.”

Spurs haven’t been overly-impressive domestically, but still remain the sole unbeaten side in the league, aiming to disrupt the sharp passing Chelsea displayed in recent weeks. Still, injury woes at the back, the suspension of Danny Rose, and favourable battles in Spurs’ third suggests the Blues are favourites t build on their flawless streak. Similar to in-game substitutions or the appointment of a new manager, teams tend to improve following change, further justifying the fascination involving Chelsea’s form.

The culture shift at Stamford Bridge is well underway, and though non-involvement in European competitions is valuable, Conte’s intensity and meticulous defensive regime could see Chelsea utilize 3-4-2-1 as their optimum shape until additional recruits join the club. Nevertheless, Conte’s bold decision signifies a new era at Stamford Bridge, as he is one of many foreign managers reviving the tactical proficiency English football recently lacked.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Vanney’s Toronto FC lived and died in wide areas at Montreal

Toronto FC’s flexibility has been on full display throughout the 2015-2016 campaign, but the late season shift to a 3-5-2 enabled manager Greg Vanney to get the utmost best from his Designated Players. Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have been in fine form towards the end of the campaign in a system that provides gusto, width, and defensive stability to a side that’s struggled to identify proper balance throughout its existence.

Yet it took Mauro Biello’s Montreal Impact no less than 15 minutes to exploit the Reds’ weakness. TFC’s discipline and compact shape is one of many improvements witnessed this season, and though they failed to beat Montreal in their predeceasing 4-4-2 diamond, it was peculiar to see Vanney persist with a three-man back-line.

Dominic Oduro’s pace and Ignacio Piatti’s dynamic dribbling were expected to serve as creative outlets for Mancosu’s willingness to run beyond the defence and poach goals. Therefore, the Impact’s wingers were legitimate threats to a TFC back-line that features fairly adventurous wing-backs.

In truth, TFC’s first half downfall illustrated one of the few flaws associated with a three-man back-line. Arguably one of the best left-backs in MLS, Justin Morrow, and Steven Beitashour, were caught out of position in the build up to the goals, but as the match wore on, they received adequate aid from the exterior centre-backs to negate Montreal’s threat from wide.

Vanney didn’t align his side to soak up pressure and play on the counter, and the hosts’ ability to quickly break forward on the counter perplexed the Reds. More so, ineffective performances from Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper weren’t beneficial to the TFC midfield, which is another factor responsible for the away side’s poor structure.

First, there was no legitimate press on Marco Donadel from a deep-lying role, and prior to the quick opening goals Mancosu easily stormed past Cooper and Bradley, thus reaffirming TFC’s fragile shape ahead of the defence. Perhaps Vanney wanted to limit Montreal’s counter-attacking threat by opting to retreat into a 5-3-2 base shape, but the hosts’ first half goals exploited poor positioning from the Reds defence – in particular the full-backs.

Montreal’s quick lead may have thwarted TFC’s prepared approach, but it also proved to be the hosts’ downfall. The onus on preventing an away goal became priority, thus leading to Biello’s men subsequently sitting off the Reds’ back three and compressing space in central areas. However, TFC’s production from open-play was erringly underwhelming, often reverting to hopeless long-balls into Altidore.

Biello’s side flustered the away side with swift transitions that were ignited no lower than the half-way line, and as the hosts dropped deeper towards their box, they simply failed to produce a quality chance in the final third. Piatti’s audacious chip via Hernan Bernadello’s outlet pass and Mancosu’s linkup play with Oduro that forced Clint Irwin into a key save, served as the sole chances created subsequent to the opening goals.

Vanney, however, deserves credit for his proactive second half gambles, albeit falling three goals behind before the hour-mark. Montreal’s decision to defend on their penalty box saw Mancosu pressing the ball 30-yards from goal, whilst occasionally aided by Bernier and Bernadello by applying pressure when TFC’s midfield duo monopolized possession. TFC transitioned to a 3-4-2-1 aiming to facilitate the ball to Giovinco and Osorio in dangerous positions, but the former was still forced to drop deeper, whereas the latter remained non-existent.

Afterwards, Vanney summoned Tosaint Ricketts for Osorio, and Will Johnson for Cooper, which flipped their attacking shape by having Giovinco float behind the two strikers. The problem with Montreal protecting their penalty box was that it encouraged TFC’s wing-backs forward. Consequently, with two strikers in the box and the centre-backs were occupied, Bradley and Giovinco received ample time to gain ascendancy.

The hosts proved they’re an efficient counter-attacking side, but their reactivity enabled TFC’s designated players to receive the ball near the box, while the wide players provided the essential width required to unsettle the Impact defence. Although TFC’s 3-5-2 has been a revelation this season, Biello’s wide players temporarily posed several issues for the away side, and they never really identified a solution for Bernier’s advanced positioning.

Nonetheless, Vanney deserves credit for adapting – though it was heavily delayed – and gaining control of the match via slight tweaks to his system and logical personnel alteration. It would be surprising to see TFC move to a four-man defence for the second leg, but it’s evident the Reds need to impose further caution in both phases of the game to progress to the MLS Final.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2016 in Published Work

 

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Schalke 2-3 Galatasaray

Match in a sentence

Schalke’s Champions League dreams came to an end on Tuesday night, as Turkish side Galatasaray scored three away goals to defeat them 3-2 at the Veltins Arena.

Analysis

  • Jens Keller fielded his side in a 4-2-3-1 with Teemu Pukki leading the line. Jefferson Farfan, Michel Bastos and Julian Draxler played behind the Finnish striker, while Marco Höger and Roman Neustädter protected the back line. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was unavailable due to injury, while Jermaine Jones was serving his suspension.
  • Fatih Terim decided to line his side up in a 4-1-3-2 with Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz upfront. Wesley Sneijder, Hamit Altintop and Selcuk Inan played behind the two strikers, while Felipe Melo shielded the back four.

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  • Going into the match, Schalke would progress with a 0-0 result, which forced Terim’s men to take the game to the German side. They dictated majority of the possession in the first half as Schalke dropped into a 4-4-2, attempting to stay compact and avoiding conceding space in between the lines for Sneijder to exploit.
  • Felipe Melo started the first half in fine fashion, the Brazilian midfielder dropped deep to pick up possession and he was allowed time on the ball to spread passes across the pitch. Neustädter was able to do this in the first leg, which led to Schalke’s superiority in possession. The German side began to press Melo, but Altintop and Selcuk Inan dropped deeper and drifted centrally to provide the Turkish side with more passing outlets. As they did for most of the first leg, Drogba and Yilmaz pressed Matip and Höwedes, and Sneijder and Felipe Melo took turns pressing Neustädter. Schalke struggled to build from the back, and they found themselves conceding possession far too often.
  • Terim’s men created the better chances in the opening 20 minutes and forced Timo Hildebrand into making two great saves. Both chances came at the expense of Atsuto Uchida, who had a poor first half. Despite being unable to create chances, the Royal Blues took the lead when Neustädter pounced on a ball from six yards out that Galatasaray was unable to clear from an initial corner kick.
  • Galatasaray might’ve dominated possession and took the lead in the first half, but it was down to a moment of individual brilliance and a defensive error, rather than their tactical shape. Galatasaray’s midfield diamond ensured that Altintop and Selcuk Inan tracked fullbacks when they got forward, but it allowed them to drift centrally, and this left the Turkish side too narrow. With Sneijder already trying to find his own space in central areas between the lines, the Turkish players were simply taking up each other’s space. With Keller’s men sitting compact in two banks of four, the Turkish side was unable to carve open the Royal Blues. Ultimately Altintop’s 30 yard wonder-strike, and Benedikt Höwedes’ defensive error to allow Yilmaz past him, gave Terim’s men the lead and two vital away goals.
  • Like he did against Dortmund, Keller replaced Neustädter for Christian Fuchs, which pushed makeshift left back Sead Kolsinac into the midfield. Galatasaray dropped deeper in the second half, as they were looking to break on the counter to put the game out of reach. Schalke needed two goals to advance at this point, and they were struggling to create chances in the final third.
  • Galatasaray full-backs Emmanuel Eboue and Albert Riera were cautious when going forward, but they also had Selcuk Inan, Altintop and Drogba preventing overloads. Uchida and Farfan weren’t allowed space to attack, as their runs were tracked throughout the game. Pukki was lively throughout the game, but he unable to cause much harm to Terim’s backline.
  • The one positive for the Royal Blues was Draxler’s performance. The 19-year-old was causing havoc in between the lines, and he created and took a few of Schalke’s chances in the second half. He drifted towards the flanks on a couple of occasions to help Bastos beat Eboue and to exploit space on the counter attacks. In the first leg he dropped deeper to help Neustädter and Höger win the midfield battle, but he failed to do this last night, specifically in the first half when Altintop, Melo and Selcuk Inan were given too much time on the ball to dictate the game.
  • Bastos equalised in the second half, which meant the German side needed one more goal to progress to the quarter-finals. Schalke pushed more men forward, but they lacked that extra bit of quality to find a winner. The German side found themselves prone to being exploited on the counter, and they were as Hildebrand made two big saves in the final 15 minutes to keep his side in the tie. In the 94th minute substitute Umut Bulut scored the winner as Schalke committed too many men forward, and were carved open on the break.
  • Schalke is the first out of the three German sides to see their Champions League campaign come to an end. They were unable to create chances from wide areas and in the first half their midfield was dominated. They possess a young squad and even with the loss of Lewis Holtby, Draxler has been able to replace the former Royal Blue quite well. A finish in the top four will be Keller’s priority in the final months of the season, and with the squad available, they’re more than capable of achieving that goal.
  • Galatasaray progress into the quarter-finals of this competition for the first time in 12 years. They were the better side on the night, and tactically they nullified Schalke’s strengths. Progressing to the next round allows Drogba and tournament leading scorer Yilmaz to build a better partnership, and it also gives Terim more time to find a way to get the best out of Sneijder.
  • Fatih Terim: “I want to congratulate all my players – I will hug and kiss them all. Players sometimes known for their limited movement and tackling ability were transformed in this game and fought for the team on the pitch.

Three Stars

1.    Julian Draxler

2.    Emmanuel Eboue

3.    Hamit Altintop

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Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Fernando Torres: Now or Never

After spending my fairly short days scrolling through YouTube on my new Macbook, it seems evident that Fernando Torres is a shade of the player he used to be four years ago. Well if I told you I’ve reached this conclusion this week I’d be lying as many have realized this over the last two years, but after watching a few 07/08 compilations and a few Spain games at Euro 08 not one person four years ago would’ve expected Torres career to fall into the path it has. Torres, 28, is in the peak of his career and will carry loads of pressure over his head as he’ll be Chelsea’s main striker next season.

Once upon a time Torres was the most feared striker in European football, he was sharp, possessed an aerial threat, had loads of pace, strong on and off the ball and was the calmest of finishers in front of goal. After a few injuries that he didn’t fully recover from, Torres was forced to have surgery twice in 2010 on his right knee. Many define that as the downfall in his career, as he hasn’t been able to replicate his form prior to the surgery, in which he drastically lost his sharpness and pace. Although he was not a permanent starter for Spain or Chelsea, in the last two years Torres was still able to become a World, European (club & country) and an F.A. cup champion; all that’s missing is the Premier league title.

Torres completed his £50 move to Chelsea 18 months ago, and has yet to replicate his form that saw him blossom into a World Class striker at Liverpool. In Torres first season alone at Liverpool he scored 33 goals in all competitions compared to the 12 he’s scored in the 18 months during his time thus far at Stamford Bridge. Apart from Barcelona & Manchester United, Torres has scored against the likes of Genk, Aston Villa, Leiceister City, Swansea, QPR & West Ham. These teams sit in the bottom half of the table or currently play in the Championship, apart from Genk who aren’t world beaters. Now many have harshly judged Torres during his tenure at the West London club based on the amount of goals he’s scored, and even Torres has stated “It was a complicated season for me. It doesn’t mean it was bad, but it was complicated with very difficult moments for me. But to see my family happy after the final, you see, whatever happened during the season was worth it.”

One can admit that he is underachieving, but he has slowly grown into an all around striker, and all that’s missing is goals. His presence on the field provided more space for Chelsea, and saw them move the ball more freely compared to when Didier Drogba was on the pitch. His darting runs would always keep defenders on there toes and peg them deeper which presented more space for the likes of Juan Mata and Ramires to operate. He also played a massive role in their Champions League run, yes Didier Drogba stole the headlines, but Torres was just as important. Yes, the same Torres that assisted Salomon Kalou’s all important away goal at Estadio de Luz, that scored the tying goal that finished off Barcelona at the Camp Nou and that won the corner that led to Drogba’s tying goal in the Champions League Final.

Before the injuries, when Torres was in his prime, their were a handful of people who rated Drogba over him. The reason simply was that Drogba could win you a game on his own, he didn’t always require the service that Torres needs. He possessed the ability to take over a game at any moment. Hear we are, approximately four-five years later and those who weren’t believers, are now agreeing with what those handful of people have been preaching for a while. Although his injuries didn’t help, his move to Chelsea, and competing with Drogba displayed Drogba’s superiority over Torres.

Torres move to Stamford Bridge on deadline day in January 2011 appeared to be another over priced signing that Roman Abramovich always wanted in his squad. Chelsea manager at the time Carlo Ancelotti didn’t seem like he orchestrated the move, and Torres like expected didn’t fit into the Chelsea system that has stayed the same since Jose Mourinho’s arrival in 2004. Chelsea heavily relied on a commanding CF that could hold up the ball and constantly have his back to goal, which is what Drogba excels at.

Whereas Torres received constant service from midfielders such Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard, and had plenty of space to make the darting diagonal runs due to Liverpool’s reliance on wide wingers, who hugged the touchline and provided more space in the final third, as Rafa Benitez set his team up in a 4-2-3-1. Torres is a striker that relies on quality service from out wide or balls slipped in b ehind the back four or lobbed over the top; he received this countless service at Liverpool and Atletico Madrid which is why he succeeded there. It’s safe to say Torres form, confidence, and stats hit an all time low and that was because he never fit into the Chelsea system. “Now I do feel like football is worth it but I’ve been through a difficult time. The worst in my career. I don’t want that again. There’s been many times when I’ve felt lost, I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt like I didn’t know where I belonged.” said Torres, when asked about his season after winning the Champions League.

Sadly, Chelsea haven’t had a natural winger since the days of Arjen Robben & Damien Duff. The only creative playmaker they had was Juan Mata, who had a bright start to his Chelsea career but due to the large amounts of fixtures was burnt out midway through the season and suffered a dip in form. Yes Torres missed some glorious chances, but the problem was Chelsea created not even a quarter of the amount of chances he received during his time at Anfield. The Chelsea midfield was aging and becoming less productive, which didn’t benefit Torres at all and left him isolated up top throughout several periods in his Stamford Bridge career.

“Form is temporary, class is permanent” is a quote that is merely overused in today’s society, but with a new Premier League season approaching Torres can put an end to this played out quote. What if class is temporary as well? For the neutral and many Torres fans, it has been a frustrating two years, but maybe the world-class striker we grew to love is finished. We’ve seen glimpses that he still has it, but it hasn’t been on a consistant basis. With Didier Drogba taking his career abroad and Chelsea not looking to pick up another striker, it’s evident that Torres is the main man at Stamford Bridge.

With the arrivals, of Edin Hazard, Marko Marin, Kevin De Bruyne, and the high possibility of Hulk and Oscar joining the club, the team is being built around Torres as the club is trying to play an exquisite brand of football and play to Torres strengths. The creativity, the width and the belief the club and fans have put into Torres must’ve increased his confidence; and it’s fair to say he has better talent to work with now than at Liverpool. It’s also safe to say this is his time to shine.

Failure to succeed under this new era dawning at Stamford Bridge can see Chelsea adverting to a possible 4-6-0 that we saw Spain orchestrate with Hazard as the ‘false nine’ or see the youth in Romelu Lukaku or Daniel Sturridge lead the line if another top striker or Hulk doesn’t join the club. Exciting times are ahead at Stamford Bridge with this new crop of highly rated youngsters joining the fray, Roberto Di Matteo as the gaffer, and their mission to knock City off their perch while retaining their European title. In order for those goals to be met, Chelsea will need all their players playing at their best and for Di Matteo, including Torres.

This is the most important moment in his career and he has a chance to lead what is now his team to a Premier League title, the only major title he hasn’t claimed during his stay in England. Now, the Premier League title isn’t a mandatory requirement for the Spanish striker, but goals are. The stage is now yours Fernando, failure to meet the required standards should leave even the biggest El Niño fans admitting that we will never see the Fernando Torres we fell in love with ever again. Scary isn’t it ?

Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in EPL

 

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