Adding his thoughts to the topic of what helps a striker to strike, columnist and Chelsea legend Pat Nevin also discusses one option open in defensive midfield…
The last two games were certainly a relief to Chelsea fans and indeed the players and the management. You might say it was only the Danish whipping boys and struggling Sunderland but nine goals for and two against isn’t to be sniffed at when it is at the end of a difficult run.
Two names are mentioned more than any other of course, they are Fernando Torres and Rafa Benitez. It would appear their fortunes are and have been inextricably linked over the years. Fernando’s four goals and his misfortune at not bagging hat tricks in both games had little or no effect on his detractors. There are a couple of journalists with whom I have had gentleman’s bets (i.e. £1) that El Nino will score the accepted amount for a top striker this season, i.e. 20 goals. Their former bullishness seems to have slipped a bit and there are those now arguing that the strike in the Community Shield v Man City shouldn’t count. Do you think they are getting just a touch concerned?
Fernando is now in double figures with less than half the season gone, so he has a great chance of getting a score or more. Having said that I am not counting any chickens, or indeed pounds, as an injury could change everything. However if he has a clear run I am still pretty confident and now that he is taking penalties, I wonder if the naysayers will want them discounted too.
What is clear is that Fernando has had a good week and the confidence made him look a different player. Commentating on the Sunderland game in particular for the BBC I said during the game that Chelsea’s transition play from back to front seemed much quicker all of a sudden. There was less pointless slow possession play in deep midfield and more dynamism from Mata, Hazard and Moses going forward. Clearly this suits Fernando down to a tee and clearly Rafa Benitez has been pushing the team to adapt this way in the short period he has been at the club.
I was thinking my analysis during the game was pretty damn smart, but then Alan Shearer said precisely the same thing later on when doing his analysis on Match of The Day. So the change is blatantly obvious, I just hope it continues to be successful. In many ways clubs around Europe have looked at the Barcelona model and attempted to copy it, which is no bad thing. But it is always worth remembering that even with all the beautiful tika-taka football they play they also have the genius that is Lionel Messi who can waltz effortlessly through almost any packed defence (Chelsea last season excepted of course).
It is much easier to break through a defence at speed when they are unprepared, especially when you have the specific talents of Fernando Torres up front. One of the most notable things about our striker’s recent play is how much more potent he is the fewer touches he takes. I know he is Spanish and they all feel they can take on five defenders and score but when Fernando plays it simple and gets in between the posts for a one-touch finish he is still devastating.
Think about his goals this week, the first against Sunderland – on- touch. Okay the penalty can only be one-touch, but then the left-foot smash against the crossbar that lead to Mata’s goal was also a first touch. Against Nordsjaelland his first was a shot that hit the keeper, then a first-time hit from the angle off the rebound. I could go on, but it is pretty clear that sharp one-touch play is likely to be the answer and could make me richer by a couple of quid by the end of the season, if not sooner.
The Club World Cup in Japan is another opportunity for Chelsea to work on the new style. It is another opportunity for Fernando to get in on the goals and another opportunity for some journos to say that these shouldn’t really count, unless of course he doesn’t score and then it will be used in statistics against him. In fact it is all just a bit of fun hiding the real question, can Rafa organise the side to make Chelsea contenders for a top-four position at least this season? I am certainly not ruling it out yet, as he appears to have addressed the problem that has perplexed us all right from the start.
Another question that has flitted in the minds of many a Chelsea fan, including yours truly, since his debut is, can David Luiz play as a central deep lying midfielder? Well Rafa is the first man to give him a little shot in there, even if it was only 15 minutes at the end of an already-won Champions League game. In that quarter of an hour David Luiz did nothing to dispel the notion there is a possibility he could be very special in that position. He is fast, powerful, can tackle, looks forward quickly, can and loves to run with the ball and maybe most importantly when he does make the error of being too adventurous, there are usually two centre-backs behind him to cover.
Whether Rafa sees this in the player, or he just wanted to find a way of getting Paulo Ferreira on the pitch and had to move David Luiz forward, or he was listening to the fans (there are a few things I think he would rather not listen to right enough), it was an intriguing moment.
I look forward to seeing how that pans out. It is worth remembering that at Liverpool Benitez changed the fortunes of another Brazilian, Lucas Leiva, by sticking with him when the fans detested him. His position was adapted from attacking midfield to a deeper role and he eventually went on to win the club’s player of the year.
That is all for the future, in the meantime there is Monterrey from Mexico and if that goes well, maybe Corinthians from Brazil in the final. It would be another great trophy to win in a year that has included the Champions League and the FA Cup, underlining that for all that has happened it is still the best calendar year in the club’s history.
The games will be on Chelsea TV and I have been drafted in to do the analysis for the BBC’s Match of The Day coverage on BBC HD and then on BBC 2 on Sunday, all going well. If Fernando scores again with a one-touch finish I will try my hardest not to look too smug in front of the nation.
Last week’s quiz was ultra-tricky. The question I asked was, ‘When was the last time Chelsea played in Athens and what was the result?’
Hundreds suggested 1971 in the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Real Madrid, when we won 2-1. But what about Olympiacos 0-0 in the Champions League in February 2008, just as many said that. As it happens that was the one I was thinking about, but a few of our fans made the valid point that technically those games were played in the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, which is just outside the city of Athens and who am I to argue with them. So the winner chosen from the few correct (and very pedantic) answers is Kypros Shacolas from Cyprus. (The other clever clogs who got it right are listed below and each get a grudging well done from me)
To win this week’s prize of a DVD of last season’s Champions League campaign, signed by Ashley Cole, could you tell me who was the first African player ever to score for Chelsea? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org Hopefully by the time I next write here we will be champions of the world as well as of Europe!
Other correct answers re. Pireaus came from Theo Voliotis, Ibrahim Kassim, Alon Eran, Charles Dayo, Dr Bartu Ahiska, Karem Mendoza as well as Carolyn Cheyney and Los Riley as usual.