x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti faces selection headaches

Fernando Torres' arrival at Chelsea provides a mouthwatering array of attacking talent at the Premier League club. However, there is also the danger that the forward could unbalance the squad.

The acquisition of Fernando Torres from Liverpool has left Chelsea’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti, facing the problem of which of an array of big-name attackers to leave out.
The acquisition of Fernando Torres from Liverpool has left Chelsea’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti, facing the problem of which of an array of big-name attackers to leave out.

A surfeit can be as dangerous as a shortage. Chelsea's attack has never been undermanned or underfunded in the Roman Abramovich era, but the struggle between conspicuous consumption and team building is occurring for the third time in the space of eight seasons.

The initial expenditure on, among others, Juan Sebastian Veron, Hernan Crespo, Adrian Mutu, Joe Cole and Damien Duff left Claudio Ranieri with sufficient options to explain his nickname, "the Tinkerman".

In 2006, after Jose Mourinho had masterminded back-to-back title wins, the balance of the Chelsea team was distorted by the signings of Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack. And now, Fernando Torres has been added to an equation that already included Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.

Mathematically, it promises much. This is the alliance of the £50 million (Dh295m) recruit, the £24m signing and the £15m buy; they have 198, 257 and 210 goals in their respective careers for club and country. None of those came in last Sunday's demoralising defeat to Liverpool when the debut of Torres was hijacked by his former colleagues.

His second outing comes in tonight's derby at Fulham. Carlo Ancelotti has indicated he will persevere with his imaginative attempt to crowbar all three into the same side. Anelka's redeployment at the tip of a midfield diamond worked wonderfully at Sunderland, when Salomon Kalou accompanied Drogba in attack, but he was denied space by Liverpool.

Moreover, while three into two can go, given Chelsea's current tactics, five into four cannot. One of the front three, Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda must sit out the start of the game. Thus far, the Frenchman has been sidelined and width sacrificed to accommodate Torres.

Ancelotti's years at AC Milan have given him an almost unrivalled expertise in configuring a side in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Then, however, the man operating in the slipstream of the main strikers was usually Kaka, an instinctively more unselfish player than Anelka, or an out-and-out creator like Rui Costa, rather than a converted forward.

The shared characteristics of his current charges, pace and an enviable ruthlessness, promise either a deadly combination or a conflict of interest. Chelsea's preferred outcome is that the attacking force that mustered a century of goals last season is enhanced by the addition of their regular nemesis.

The danger is that the triumvirate engage in an unofficial battle for supremacy, encroaching upon one another's territory rather than serving as the suppliers for their colleagues.

That all three have displayed a penchant for sulking indicates that Ancelotti's is a tricky task. Luiz Felipe Scolari's management jarred with Drogba, just as Roy Hodgson's highlighted that Torres has a sullen streak while Raymond Domenech and Anelka were a damaging combination for each other as well as France.

Pleasing Abramovich as well as placating his players means Ancelotti must multitask. He is emphasising the advantages of the owner's largesse, however.

"Now we have a strong squad with David Luiz and Torres, we've improved our ability and we have more power," he said. "The squad was good, but now it is even better.

"In attack we can choose whether to play with two up front or with the Christmas tree, it depends on the game that we want to play. When we play with two strikers Nicolas Anelka can be in the number 10 position, in the hole, but with one striker he can play on the right."

Yet his mentality, like those of Drogba and Torres, is that of the lone gunman. Instead, they are being urged to hunt as a pack.

Last week, Liverpool prevented them firing any bullets. They had the ideal system to combat Ancelotti's tactics; Fulham's 4-4-1-1 seems less suited, unless the supposed wingers tuck in to prevent Chelsea outnumbering their hosts in the centre of midfield and the full-backs defend as narrowly as possible to prevent Torres, in particular, finding space in the channels.

And if that does happen, an SOS may be sent to Malouda and Chelsea's expensively-assembled front three may have to be disbanded.

sports@thenational.ae