Shearer/Sutton. Gudjonson/Hasselbaink. Owen/Heskey. Henry/Bergkamp. Dalglish/Rush. Striking duos at their timeless best. I’m sure you’re thinking of your own favourites. Perhaps you’re even shaking your head in contempt at my choices. Everyone has their favourites. It’s wonderful having memories of the past, but amid so much talk of the ‘modern game’, electric striking partners are few and far between. More and more reliance is being placed on the importance of the lone striker to pick up the killer pass and convert it to a goal. Or so we hope.
A particular striking duo comes to mind from a few seasons back that almost reached the level of telepathy, involving a certain Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. That partnership was potent, and at that time millions of fans would have given their right arm to see them playing for their team.
This season however, if your team happens to be Chelsea FC and your striker its underachieving number 9, the chances are you’re still hoping for that converted shot on goal.
And yet how can this be possible with such a mighty midfield made up of the likes of Mata, Oscar and Hazard? The three amigos have slid seamlessly into Chelsea’s starting lineup, playing some (dare I say it) classy football for the Blues. Watching Oscar is like watching a science experiment; unpredictable, exciting and very dangerous. His passing skill and first touch are excellent and compliment his ability to escape from tight positions and win the ball back with flair. On the other hand, Mata really does live up to the name of ‘magician’- his ability to create a goal from nothing is breathtaking, as is his skill in getting into space and beguiling defenders. Eden Hazard- need I say more? A creative playmaker, his instinct is to split defenders like a comb parts hair, providing that last tantalising ball. Combined, this trio is truly formidable. What’s special here is their ability to utilise their technical gifts with an acute awareness on the pitch to create an attack worthy of any premier side. Added to this is the aid of such fullbacks as Ivanovic and Cole, both capable of scoring goals.
So why, in the presence of such proficiency, is our £50million pound man struggling to provide the finish? Torres has become somewhat of an enigma, and everyone has their own theory as to why he has not lived up to his price tag. With Rafa Benitez now publicly admitting that El Nino’s peak was in a red shirt, it’s extremely doubtful whether we’ll ever see his panther-like prowess in front of goal again. For the sake of the game I really hope so, but I fear that working with the Spanish coach for the second time could be his last chance to recapture the form that at one time labelled him as one of the best strikers in the premier league, if not the world.
Torres’s body language sways between that of gritty determination, to dejected school boy hanging around waiting for the ball. Although his performance against Manchester City for example was full of hard work, on the ball he seemed always a second too late. Kompany had him under control right from the kick off and rarely did Torres evade the physical stature of the City captain. At times one even felt that he fell to ground too easily, gave the ball away cheaply or even looked for the free kick rather than continue the build-up of play. Surprisingly it even looked like he wasn’t always aware that Kompany was right on his tail. I can’t help but compare this with how Torres used to enjoy his battles with Nemanja Vidic for example. We loved watching Torres frustrate and exploit defenders who were at the top of their game. That was Fernando Torres. Of course it’s part of the game to miss the target, but the type of shots that Torres has missed and the manner in which he has executed them are signs that his confidence has impacted his ability profusely. Or is it that his ability has impacted his confidence? I believe it’s the former and this brings hope that a turnaround can be made for the struggling striker.
A person’s psychological state of mind dictates his achievement. In this case the pressure is proving to be the winner. His transfer in the dying minutes of the transfer window to a rival club owned by a billionaire who had just purchased him for a massive sum may have been too big a task for Torres, who was already showing signs of a weakening form. Not only that, but at Liverpool he was very much the main man, and suddenly at Chelsea he had the astounding reputation and ability of Drogba to contend with. Drogba was already such an established favourite perhaps this was another factor that knocked his confidence. It is no surprise that Torres has had to become very much a team player, often creating scoring opportunities for others rather than for himself.
Success breeds success, and a reputation can often be a monkey on your back. At Liverpool Torres had a fresh slate upon which to build, at Chelsea he had a predetermined path to follow. Destiny was already mapped out for him by the £50m given to Liverpool in order to prize him away from Merseyside. We have to ask whether regret is a factor contributing to his disaffected displays, the knowledge that legendary status as football genius was forfeited for what he has now- a frustrated club owner and a fan base losing interest and faith. Again, his body language doesn’t paint a happy picture. Even when he has scored- his celebrations are mild, his passion watered down, his cheeky side deflated. I don’t see an ownership within Torres towards his role at Chelsea, I see a club that’s ownership of him has perhaps led to his deteriorating form.
One thing is for certain if history is anything to go by, and that is that two pairs of feet are better than one. Chelsea need to play on Torres’s strengths, and create a midfield less selfish and more traditional. Bring back the striking duos.
For now, an exciting prospect has been presented to us in the form of Rafael Benitez, and we watch from the sidelines hoping that a revival of Fernando Torres is about to take place. Can Rafa change the dejected boy into El Nino from the past? Our fingers are crossed.