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False No.9?

Does Fernando Torres' European record explain Jose Mourinho's striker quandary at Chelsea?

Last Updated: 26/02/14 at 23:14

Fernando Torres: Scored Chelsea's goal in Turkey but hit the target just twi

Fernando Torres: Scored Chelsea's goal in Turkey but hit the target just twi

"I have a team but no striker". Jose Mourinho thinks he is missing a leading forward at Chelsea and Fernando Torres' European record goes some way to explaining the problem.

The Spanish No.9's goal in Turkey on Wednesday night against Galatasaray in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie, and what could be a crucial away goal, was his sixth in his last five starts in the European Cup. Meanwhile he has also scored away from home twice in his last four matches in all competitions.

Those albeit short-term statistics contrast against the flop reputation which has followed Torres since he joined Chelsea in 2011 from Liverpool in a British record £50million deal. They also go against the suggestion that the serious knee injuries he suffered in 2010 completely changed him as a player and eroded his confidence to a non-existent level.

Torres' goal came in the ninth minute after being set up by good work from Chelsea full-back Cesar Azpilicueta

However Torres, who turns 30 years old in less than a month, also explains part of the quandary for Mourinho in his second spell at Chelsea. With Chelsea legend Didier Drogba - a lynchpin of Mourinho's first, trophy-laden Chelsea era - lining up as an opponent, it emphasised that it is the specific type of striker which the Special One is missing.

Torres is not the player who took the football world by storm when at Liverpool, he has lost pace and sharpness, but he still revels in space. And, in just the second minute against Galatasaray, there was a sign he realised Roberto Mancini's hosts were there for the taking as he voiced his frustration towards team-mate Gary Cahill for not playing an early, long pass into the space behind the Turkish club's defence.

It set the tone for the first half; a first half in which Torres opened the scoring in the ninth minute as he intelligently held his position close to the penalty spot to collect the excellent Cesar Azpilicueta's cross rather than running into a crowd close to the near post. It was a sign of natural striking instincts.

Before scoring, Torres showed his striking instinct in holding his position close to the penalty spot

But the suspicion has always been that, as at Liverpool, Torres needs his team to be built around him and to his strengths - breaking forward in space. That is a reason why he tends to do better away from home for a counter-attacking Chelsea, particularly when given the space on offer from Mancini's ludicrously open and disorganised Galatasaray in the first half.

Mourinho, though, always demands more from his teams; they are efficient, powerful, well organised and clinical machines - with players performing roles for the team rather than specific individuals. That Torres played only eight passes in the first half, less than any other player on the pitch, at a success rate of just 62.5 per cent therefore seemed below standard and led to more than one wasted counter-attack.

Torres also no longer has the stature to occupy a defence by himself, as is required in Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 formations. He does not have the power and ability to hold up the ball as Drogba did for Chelsea in his pomp before bringing in to play runners from the advanced midfield three - such as Frank Lampard and Joe Cole in the past Mourinho era at Chelsea. This was demonstrated by the fact Torres had been involved in 15 duels, more than any other player, by half-time but he won only just more than half of those contests.

It has also always been a fondness of Torres' to drift out wide into space. He again did this against Galatasaray but that was a waste in the first half when the opposing centre-backs were so clearly and painfully lacking in pace, while it also at times left Chelsea missing a presence in high, central areas of the field.

Torres played only eight passes in the first half (left) and too frequently drifted out wide to touch the ball (right)

Shortly after half-time, perhaps with Mourinho having given an indication of the possibility of exposing Galatasaray, Torres outpaced and outmuscled Semih Kaya, who had been brought on at the break in place of the hapless Hakan Balta, and ex-Arsenal man Emmanuel Eboue through the centre of the pitch. His shot was then well saved by Fernando Muslera.

But that was a far too infrequent a sight. When Torres was substituted off in the 68th minute due to fatigue, according to Mourinho, to be replaced by Samuel Eto'o, who is likely too similar a player for the liking of his manager, he had produced four shots - more than any other man on the pitch - but had hit the target just twice. Chelsea can rue that the game should have been over as a contest by at least half-time before they let Aurelien Chedjou equalise in the 64th minute.

Four shots was more than any other player but Torres did not make the most of his opportunities

Torres had covered 8466 metres when he was substituted but, again, Mourinho demands more. Compare this to the total of 9003m of Drogba, who is more than five years Torres' senior and spent just 11 minutes more on the pitch on Wednesday, and it gives a demonstration of the required work ethic.

The main requirement of strikers is of course to score and Torres is doing well in Europe and away from home. Strikers do not lose their instinctive ability to find the back of the net and, when offered space, Torres is no different. But Mourinho's teams are also designed with strikers to perform a function for the team which is different to simply scoring goals.

Even last season in Mourinho's Real Madrid teams, Gonzalo Higuain had an impressive average pass success rate of 83.6% in the Champions League while Karim Benzema's average was at 83.2%. This season, Torres' average pass success rate in the Champions League is just 60%.

Mourinho told Sky Sports after the final whistle against Galatasaray: "I am not critical with my striker, because my striker did a very good game. But, overall, when we go to counter-attack situations, we are missing the last pass, the last control, the last choice - because we had in the first half many occasions to do the second goal. The second goal would have changed completely the story of the game."

Regardless of that diplomatic response, in the wake of that comment at the beginning of this article having been leaked to the public by a reporter earlier this week or, as the sceptics suggest, as a mind game, Mourinho would surely want more from Torres.

It would be a major shock if Chelsea are not spending a lot of money on a striker in the summer.

Jose Mourinho's view

"The result is not amazing. The situation in the second leg will be difficult. If Stamford Bridge can give 10% of what this public gives then that would be fantastic for us. We have to try and go through but it will be difficult. It is better at 1-1 than 0-0, so we cannot say it is a bad result, but obviously they are a very good team and it will be difficult at Stamford Bridge."

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