Fernando Torres has been coached by many world class managers at Chelsea. Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, and Di Matteo all failed to get the best out of him. While he did show some flashes of brilliance under Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, and Di Matteo it was the arrival of Rafa Benitez –hate him or dislike him -that brought more consistency from him.
Torres failed under Ancelotti because our style of play was completely different to that of Liverpool, he joined mid-season and the media pressure and scrutiny surrounding his record-breaking transfer was overwhelming. Our attacking players also made his task frustrating and difficult. Coming from a Liverpool system which relied on counter attacking and most chances falling perfectly for him (through balls and cut-back crosses), adjustment ended up being a herculean feat.
Torres came to meet a slow build-up style of football at Chelsea, which was the preferred method of attack in Ancelotti’s second year. This suited Drogba, who could be marked closely by a defender and still get a goal and not Torres cause it makes it easy for defenders to mark him out of the game.
Man-marking Drogba is an exercise in futility
Torres’ team mates created few chances and many of those few chances were not suited to his abilities as a striker. For example, there is little sense in lobbing the ball towards his chest and expecting him to score.
When he wasn’t getting clear chances, he tried to create his own. I would watch games and see Torres pass the ball to Kalou or Malouda and enter into good goal-scoring space expecting the return pass. Torres would never get the return pass, Kalou or Malouda would shoot for goal instead. It did not matter to them that Torres had moved to a better goal scoring position than they were in; personal glory came first for them as they were both fighting/competing heavily for a place in the team.
The situation didn’t change much under Villas-Boas, who made Chelsea play a highline defense. By doing so, Chelsea would maintain constant pressure on opposing teams and this forced them to defend deeper and counter attack. This leaves little space that can be exploited on the break and Torres performs better when such space exists.
The first half of Di Matteo’s reign was similar to Avram Grant’s reign as Chelsea manager in that he made little changes to the system but had highly motivated players who were keen to prove a point. We all know the first half of his reign ended fantastic.
The second half however brought Hazard and Oscar. These new players were able to link up well with Mata and score a lot of goals between them. They also created more chances for Torres than previous midfields had. If Di Matteo was able to create a balanced Chelsea team, maybe he would have been manager today. The team was fantastic in attack but terrible in defense which is surprising because Di Matteo brought us the FA Cup and Champions League on a foundation of solid defense. “Attack wins you games but strong defense wins you trophies”.
Torres had his best goal tally for Chelsea last season. I believe he could have easily gotten more than 23, maybe 35-40 goals if he played his old game. By old game, I mean passing to attacking midfield, running into space, receiving the return pass and scoring. However, this did not happen because Torres would often move wide of the goal when he could score more by being at center and that benefited Mata the most. I believe he moves wide to avoid being manhandled by center backs.
The reason why Torres will shine under Mourinho is because Mourinho loves counter attacking football. In 2005/06 season, Mourinho’s Chelsea scored 42% of its goals from counter attacks. 44% of goals came from slow build ups. The remainder of the goals came from set piece situations. 38% of the goals came from counter attack play of less than 10 seconds. 53% of the counter attack goals involved 3 passes or less. [Stats taken from Dick Bate, Future Game Presentation (2012)]
In the Super Cup game against Bayern Munich, Torres scored the first goal and it came from a defense-to-attack transition. When Hazard got the ball from Bayern, at that moment, a transition occurred. In order to prevent Bayern from organizing themselves making it difficult for us to score, Hazard quickly unleashed the ball to Schurrle on the right wing, who also doesn’t waste time and crosses the ball in which Torres finishes without taking a touch or thinking.
Most counter attacks that turn into goals are made with less than 6 passes and Chelsea scored against Bayern with 3. Bayern could do little about it because it took all of 5 seconds to occur. That is the type of football Mourinho likes to play.
Transitions have become crucial. When the opponent is organized defensively, it is very difficult to score. The moment the opponent loses the ball can be the time to exploit the opportunity of someone being out of position. Similarly when we lose the ball we must react immediately. In training I sometimes practice keeping a minimum of five players behind the ball, so that when we lose it we can still keep a good defensive shape. The players must learn to read the game – when to press and when to return to their defensive positions. Everybody says that set plays win most games, but I think it is more about transitions. – José Mourinho
If you still doubt Mourinho’s love for counter attacking that suits Torres, listen to him lament Chelsea’s failure to take advantage of opportunities to counter attack at Old Trafford.
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