By Kevin Koczwara
Neither Liverpool or Chelsea started the 2010/11 English Premier League season the way they wanted to. Neither team has lived up to any of their hype or their past glories. Both needed a change. Did anyone expect this to happen though?
Let’s start in London with Chelsea and work our way north to the Merseyside to visit Liverpool [Part 2].
The Blues started the season off like a piston firing on all cylinders, but it was as if someone forgot to check the oil and the they all started rubbing, grinding metal on metal before coming close to a halt. Chelsea scored 12 goals in its opening two games of the season and looked like it was going to run ragged on the Premier League again this season, maybe even securing another double – a bigger double, one that included Roman Abramovich’s prized Champions League trophy.
Things started to unravel for Chelsea in October. Frank Lampard got injured. Ramires hadn’t adapted to the Premier League’s pace and speed well (he is improving with every game and could be well worth the money spent). Youngsters Daniel Sturridge and company weren’t producing. John Terry and Alex seemed to be forming a strong partnership in the center of the defense, they both got injured. Didier Drogba fell off the boil, in fact he stopped starting and contracted Malaria – good excuse, but still, he slowed down and still hasn’t caught up to speed yet.
Fernando Torres torched the Blues on November 7. The Spainard scored twice for the Reds as Liverpool sealed an unexpected and impressive, 2-0, win. It looked to be a turning point for both teams, Chelsea on the fall and Liverpool on the rise. It was more like a free-fall for Liverpool and they dragged Chelsea down a bit on the way.
Chelsea lost at Stamford Bridge just a week later, 3-0, to a surging Sunderland side and followed that up with a loss at Birmingham. The Blues followed up the two league loses with three straight draws (at Newcastle, Everton at home, and at Tottenham) before losing to Arsenal, 3-1, at the Emirates. A 1-0 win over Bolton looked like the turning point, but it was a false beacon of hope, Chelsea kept sliding, losing ground on Manchester United, Arsenal, and up-and-coming Manchester City. The Blues drew with a struggling Aston Villa side, 3-3, at Stamford Bridge and a devastating, 1-0, away loss to Wolverhampton. From November through the middle of January, Chelsea looked like a lower table team, a team fighting for relegation, not a team defending an English double.
It was time for a change. The Russian wasn’t having those type of results on his watch. Things needed to be done. That’s where Liverpool comes into play.
Chelsea needed a younger, more versatile player to lead the line for its attack. Florent Malouda started the season off on top of his game, but he couldn’t keep the spiraling Chelsea attack steaming ahead on his own. Drogba and Anelka started showing their age while Solomon Kalou makes a potent weapon off the bench. There was a missing element to the attack, and Abramvich went out and solved that problem (so he believes) by spending $80 million on Liverpool striker Fernando Torres.
Torres has been the Premier League’s best scorer since joining Liverpool in 2007. In an injury hampered 2009/10 season, Torres scored 18 goals in 22 appearances (20 starts) for Liverpool in the Premier League, a staggering figure. He didn’t have the best year though, he couldn’t muster out a single goal in the Champions League, where Abramovich will want him to produce the most, as Liverpool couldn’t manage its way out of the group stage.
This year has been a different story all together. Torres has managed just 9 goals in 23 appearance for Liverpool, and it took a while for him to get going at all. The Spanish striker struggled after a poor World Cup – where he injured himself in the final – and had no real service or help while Roy Hodgson was in charge.
Will Torres pan out in the Chelsea blue? Or will he continue to struggle with fitness and disappointing spells? Two things are for sure, he will no longer be the darling of some of the most devoted fans on the planet, and he will have less playing time as the main man, that’s already been taken up by Drogba, and others have struggled to cope with that fact before. If the experiment does work out, people will look back on the Russian’s hasty decision as one of the best moves ever, but if Torres flops or doesn’t live up to the hype, then this could be one costly mistake, especially in face of the new financial restrictions being put in place by UEFA next season.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com