Chelsea new boy Fernando Torres thinks that Didier Drogba is the best striker in the world, which is a little bit interesting because there'd be more than a few who would have said the same for Torres less than a year ago. Although the ex-Liverpool forward suffered through injury at the World Cup this summer as well as mediocre season to date with the Merseyside club, he's an undeniably special talent that Chelsea were only to happy to shell out £50M on. What remains to be seen, however, is whether he can mesh with Stamford Bridge's other special talents.
A hypothetical Drogba-Torres partnership should have central defenders running in fear. Both strikers are deadly finishers, and while Torres is obviously more of a finesse player, he has surprising power. Drogba, is, of course, the opposite, combining monstrous brute strength with the kind of tricks you'd expect to see from someone half of his size. Each player, at his best, is more than capable of occupying both opposing centre backs at once. So a partnership between the two of them should be just fine, right?
Well, not necessarily.
While Drogba's played effectively with a strike partner before (he and Nicolas Anelka were extraordinarily effective while Chelsea played the 4-4-2 diamond at the beginning of last season), the closest thing Torres has had to a sidekick in recent days has been Dirk Kuyt, who's a marvelous player and supremely underrated but almost certainly not a true centre forward. Torres has almost always been at his best when used as a lone striker, the focal point of the attack.
Can he work with Drogba? I don't see why not, but we do have to bear in mind that no experiment with a two-striker system has ever brought out the best in Fernando Torres. There are ways to synthesise the two players' skills, but Carlo Ancelotti will have to be very wary about simply throwing them both up front and expecting them to magically rack up the goals, something seemingly ever major media outlet wants to accuse Chelsea of before the fact. Fortunately, there seems to be an answer about how he can do just that.
Forget the various permutations of Chelsea's midfield for a second - how the rest of the team will shape itself is an interesting question and one surely worthy of further discussion - and focus on the two-man forward line. With the other attacking options available to Chelsea, the opposition will have fairly limited resources to deploy against Drogba and Torres, and Carlo Ancelotti can almost certainly take advantage of that.
As mentioned above, both players are complete strikers, but they're born from different styles, and are at their most threatening in different situations. While Torres is fully capable of sensible hold-up play, Drogba, is liable to turn that hold-up play into a legitimate chance simply by bulldozing any nearby defenders out of the picture. This forces teams to play a fairly high defensive line - they can't afford to let Drogba bring down the ball very near their penalty area, and playing high keeps the Ivorian at arm's length.
Of course, playing a high line is just what you don't want to do against Fernando Torres, who's more than capable of blazing past the offside trap and scoring at will. So what do you do, as a defender? I'd suggest playing a deep line is the lesser of two evils here, since Drogba's ability to demolish defenders is more inconsistent that Torres' pace, but even that brings with it some issues. How exactly do you deal with Drogba holding up the ball before laying it off to an onrushing Fernando Torres? Stick a defender on Torres at all times and leave Drogba one on one with your other centreback? Then you're just relying on your defenders to be better individual players than either of the strikers, and that's a very tough ask when we're talking about facing two of the best five forwards in the world. At once.
Drogba and Torres, then, have some complementary skills, and force the defence into asking different questions. This also means that they are asking themselves different questions too. The most effective spot for Torres to occupy isn't the ideal location for Didier Drogba. As a result, the two aren't as likely to get in each others way as they would if it were, say, Nicolas Anelka partnering Torres. Ultimately, both Drogba and Torres are centre forward, and while that position speaks to a similar location from side to side, the front/back movement is a little more open to interpretation. I would imagine that fielding Drogba further up the pitch and Torres a little deeper, able to make runs on the defenders that his partner is holding static.
Torres might not have done this before, but I really don't see any reason that it wouldn't work.