x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The eternal promise for Fernando Torres to come good for Chelsea

Carlo Ancelotti, the coach, continues to stand by the Spaniard, despite the striker's failure to turn movement into goals.

Torres, left, Drogba, centre, and Anelka – Chelsea’s dysfunctional strikeforce.
Torres, left, Drogba, centre, and Anelka – Chelsea’s dysfunctional strikeforce.

It has become a painfully repetitive refrain of every Chelsea press conference. Carlo Ancelotti is asked about the difficulties Fernando Torres has had at a club that paid £50 million (Dh298m) for him on the last day of January.

Ancelotti declares his satisfaction with the striker's "movement" and dismisses the Spaniard's failure to score a goal. In fact, to even particularly look like scoring a goal.

Torres has been "rested" twice in the past fortnight, explains Chelsea's manager, because he finds it impossible to select a first-choice starting partnership from what he calls the Premier League's "best group of strikers". And because energies need to be rotated around April's seven-match schedule.

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In the background, Roman Abramovich looks on angrily, folded arms clamped tight to abdomen, as Torres is hauled off part way through another 90 minutes of expensive "movement".

This is not what the Russian billionaire thought he was buying when he broke the UK transfer record and the oddly parsimonious habits of recent transfer windows to acquire Torres.

Still 26 upon signing his £150,000-a-week Stamford Bridge contract, El Nino was marketed as the planet's classiest striker. Elegant, popular, quick and lethal, he appeared wasted on Liverpool's rehabilitation from civil war and scored frequent, often beautiful, goals in all corners of England. Most often of all against Chelsea.

Answer the forward's call to be helicoptered out of Anfield and Chelsea's stalling trophy machine would not simply be restored to former glories, but supercharged into Abramovich's obsession — Champions League victors.

As they enter a quarter-final against Manchester United which will determine whether the obsession remains a source of perpetual irritation, Torres is more problem than solution. If Ancelotti would be brave to leave him on the bench, performances and statistics suggest that is exactly where the Spaniard should be tonight.

Torres has not scored since January 22. When presented with the ball in a finishing position, he has stalled, mis-controlled, or missed. The movement Ancelotti praises perplexes, with Torres often running away from the area when his new teammates attack it, and rarely into obviously predatory position.

Worse, there is no argument to be made that Torres has been unfortunate in front of goal. In seven league outings since netting against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the striker has managed just a solitary shot on target, and that against a downwardly mobile Blackpool.

Ask Ancelotti if he is aware of these numbers and you're cut off before you can complete the sentence.

"Yeah, yeah," he said. "I know this but I don't like to watch a statistic. I think statistics are important in football - but not so important. It's an important thing to have experience, to watch the player, and to see his performance for the team. Because the statistic doesn't show how he is moving for the team.

"He had four chances against Copenhagen [away]. Obviously in the last game he didn't have a lot of chance to shoot or to score. He has to improve, and we have to know that it is his first time here.

"It's the first two months that he is here, and maybe some difficulties to relate with the players on the pitch can happen."

Ancelotti argues that Torres is running into promising positions but that teammates are failing to fuel those with passes. He has gone through five switches of formation attempting to find a system that suits the striker.

The Spain international's preference to run off defenders' shoulder into space has led to the coach settling on a regulation 4-4-2 he once insisted he would never use, more because it delivered a sequence of five positive results than because of any obvious efficiency.

Discussing the relationships between his strikers is a dangerous area. Didier Drogba, for years the club's dominant striker (and the only one to score a Premier League goal since the arrival of Torres), was unimpressed by the acquisition. Watching him play with Torres is like watching two rivals trying to prove their individual superiority.

In 220 minutes on the pitch together spread over six games, Drogba and Torres, have passed the ball to each other just 10 times — and one of those at kick off. Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, who share a strong friendship, almost matched that total in 68 minutes against FC Copenhagen (eight passes). They also combined for Drogba's goal against Stoke City on Saturday.

Privately, Torres complains that certain players are making life difficult for him at Stamford Bridge. He is too talented a player and seems too intelligent an individual to go the same way, but the real problems will begin if the Spaniard starts behaving like Abramovich's previous record signing.

The last thing Chelsea need is another Andriy Shevchenko.

sports@thenational.ae