x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Villas-Boas considered in his handling of mis-firing Fernando Torres

The Portuguese maybe younger than some members of the Chelsea squad but he has shown he will not indulge the club's big personalities.

Fernando Torres has scored just once in 23 appearances for Chelsea.
Fernando Torres has scored just once in 23 appearances for Chelsea.
Roman Abramovich only admonished Carlo Ancelotti over his use of Fernando Torres once. Not for failing to select the out-of-sorts £50 million (Dh289,918m) striker as Chelsea's Premier League title slipped away from them; but for deciding to start him against Liverpool six days after that record transfer.

Too early and too much pressure thought Chelsea's owner. Torres failed to find the net, or even threaten to, and Liverpool counter-attacked their way to a 1-0 Stamford Bridge win. Though Ancelotti, who'd been on unsteady ground with his employer since the preceding season's Champions League exit to Inter Milan, was never instructed over his use of Torres again, he admits there was an expectation the Spain international should start.

Torres with one goal in 23 appearances since signing without a full medical is no longer the Italian's problem. The manner in which his successor has handled the febrile politics of the Chelsea dressing room is instructive.

A mere five games into his first season as manager, Andre Villas-Boas has already benched every one of Chelsea's senior figures. On Tuesday both Frank Lampard and John Terry started the club's first Champions League fixture alongside their manager in the dugout - an unprecedented move in such an important fixture.

Even if a trip to Manchester United awaited this afternoon, neither England international believed an evening's rest made strategic sense. Asked how the pair responded to their omission, the normally garrulous Villas-Boas offers a single sentence reply. "They are good professionals and have a good relationship with their manager," he says.

Villas-Boas appears to have made a double calculation. First, that if he is to establish authority over a squad accustomed to winning wars of will with managers it has to be done early, while he retains Abramovich's full support. Second, that if Chelsea are to compete with the vitality of United and Manchester City for the main domestic title he will need the flexibility to change all his personnel. No one, not even Terry and Lampard can be guaranteed a start.

Though Torres was publicly upbraided for an interview in Spain where he talked of "the type of player Chelsea have, an old player who plays very slowly, who holds possession", the thinking was that of both owner and manager. In press conferences Villas-Boas rails against the idea that Chelsea's squad is too aged to win the Premier League, yet the switch in tactics from the younger eleven that defeated Bayer Leverkusen was marked.

With David Luiz driving forward from central defence, Raul Meireles striking long accurate forward passes from deep midfield positions, and Juan Mata flitting across the forward line, Chelsea were a quicker, more "vertical" team than the side opponents have become accustomed to. The method was not without it's drawbacks, foremost the defensive naivety that allowed Leverkusen in on goal too often for comfort, but it was headed in Villas-Boas' requested direction.

"The manager wants me to use an attacking style where I have greater contact and relationship with my teammates," explains Mata. "He wants play to be vertical and a lot of passes. He wants me to be very much involved in those passes and setting up goals. He also wants me to score goals. When you are behind the strikers your role is to set up goals and provide those passes but also to score as well."

The most expensive acquisition of the Villas-Boas era, Mata has netted twice in his first three Chelsea appearances. The Spaniard's agile inventiveness coupled with Meireles' dynamism and precision promise to be fundamental to the new manager's attempts to reinvent Chelsea.

"I am working on the speed of possession," says Villas-Boas. "But I think speed of possession is also helped by the way you challenge players in training with different exercises. Not that they weren't challenged before, but I think we have gone one step further in terms of training intensity compared to last year. Maybe that can have an effect in the games.

"I think it's important because of the nature of British football. Because it is full of high speed and high emotion. You have to have criteria in your decisions but also know you have to accelerate, because in the end what takes people out of their seats is emotion. And as soon as you regain the ball people are expecting something and expecting some kind of reaction. And maybe that's what we're trying to transform."

A manager makes his changes quickly at Chelsea or not at all.