. The Subbuteo Pitch: Fernando Torres (Chelsea) v Manchester City (Away) 21/3/12
posted by Paul Wilkes (Editor) on 2012-03-21 23:45:00

Background

It's been over a year since LaLigaUK took a look at one of the £50 million player's individual performances, sceptic's may say we haven't missed much. The former Atléti and Liverpool striker went 26 hours of playing time without hitting the back of the net, but two goals in the FA cup against Leicester City might just have sprung him back into life. New interim manager Roberto Di Matteo has said: "He is not only a good player, he is a good guy. I have a lot of belief in him and the other players,"
"I have been speaking individually to all the players and that includes him. But I wouldn't want to take any credit for that. It's down to the boys immense belief and work-rate on the pitch."

Man City will be desperate for a win to keep pressure on their City rivals who currently sit four points ahead at the top of the table.

How they lined up ?

Both sides made fourchanges to their previous outings, Man City left out Kolarov, Savic, Pizzaro and Johnson from the side that beat Sporting, but still got knocked out of the Europa League on away goals. Bringing in Clichy, Zabaleta, De Jong and Nasri. Carlos Tevez was on the bench for the first time since the massive fall out last October.

Kalou, Sturridge, Bertrand and Boswingaall played in the FA Cup win against Leicester City, they made way for Ramires, Lampard, Cole and Luizat the Etihad. As well as three Spaniards on the pitch in Torres, Silva and Mata, there was also three players who had previously played in La Liga, Agüero, Yaya Toure and Zabaleta.

Direct Dual

With both first choice centre-backs out for City, Micah Richards was moved into the position as Mancini seems to agree that Savic isn't quite ready for the big games.

1st Half

A couple of early direct balls from Petr Cech had various outcomes, the first was poorly controlled by Torres as it fell to his feet, the other was much better as he came to meet the ball in the space between the centre backs and the double pivot of De Jong and Y.Toure. The Spaniards peeling off to the right hand side was very evident in the opening 20 minutes, this seemed to move to the left more as the half progressed. This possibly could have been due to the introduction of the more attack minded Boswinga on the right for the injured Ivanovic, with Cole on the left fairly withdrawn due to the threat that Silva offered in return.

Torres was certainly feeling more confident than in previous games as he searched to receive the ball, coming short more to make himself available then looking peel off to the wings. He played less against the centre backs, so both Richards and Kolo Toure were happy to let him receive the ball in between the lines and close him down only when he got closer to the edge of the area. This was apparent after a chance he supplied for Mata, who couldn't hit the target. The diagram illustrates where he was receiving the ball, a lot deeper and none in behind the two centre backs.

Micah Richards did well against the striker and was clever to know when to enter into a duel. His strength and stature were of a particular problem to Torres especially when Chelsea played long, but Torres has never been that good at holding the ball up as a lone-forward so this was to be expected.

Fernando's work rate off the ball was impressive, at times he closed down all four defenders as well as both De Jong and Yaya. One instance was particularly significant in the 32nd minute as he chased the two central midfielders only for them to play around him, he quickly gesticulated to his teammates by raising his arms about the lack of pressing, this seemed to be a more conscious tactic from Di Matteo as the side as a whole sat deeper than under Villas-Boas, looking to ascertain success once again from the old guard.

The more vocal and animated Torres was a plus point for the player though, as he explained, pointed and confidently demonstrated what he wanted and expected from his teammates. Previously the former Atléti man would have been more withdrawn, sullen and looking as if he didn't care, as he struggled with his confidence.

2nd Half

His former Liverpool teammate Meireles was assisting him further up the pitch when looking to close down the opposition. Torres work rate continued to be good, but his distribution was poor and often undid the initial good work. His reading of situations seems to be improving as he intercepted the ball and made a nuisance of himself looking to pounce on missed placed passes when the opposition had possession. He made three interceptions, all of which were in his own half which illustrated a) his work rate and b) how deep he was having to play to make an impact.

Cahill's lucky deflected strike gave Chelsea the lead after an hour. The goal gave the side confidence and Torres once again had a spring in his step, twisting and turning around three defenders before attempting a back-heel, this was something he wouldn't have attempted four weeks ago. At times he seemed to be trying a little too hard, his inability to hold the ball up and relieve the consistent momentum that Man City had started to build up led to his substitution in the 73rd minute. Torres was clearly not pleased as he muttered under his breath, the introduction of Didier Drogba made sense at the time, but the Spaniard may point to the fact his side were leading whilst he was on the pitch.

Former Atlético Madrid forward Sergio Agüero scored a penalty and then Samir Nasri got the winner, after a superb reverse pass from the returning Carlos Tevez.

Conclusion

It was a mixed game for Fernando Torres, confidence, work rate and application were all clearly improved upon. His passing and decision-making were at times poor, his passing percentage 70% was the third worse of the outfield players, beaten only by Meireles and Ivanovic who were also subbed. The fact that he never took a shot, despite a couple of opportunities presenting themselves was surprising given the weekend he had enjoyed. Richards dealt superbly with him when he had his back to goal and when dealing with crosses. The tactics Chelsea deployed were somewhere in between their old style and the more advanced high pressing, which Fernando's game favours. It's debatable he can ever reach the heights that he once previously enjoyed, but it's not just confidence that will play apart, it's also tactical suitability.


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