Even before Chelsea sold Daniel Sturridge, who seldom played up front but at least provided an option in times of crisis, there was an urgent need for Rafael Benítez to recruit another striker. Fernando Torres, still yet to convince since his £50m move from Liverpool two years ago, was Chelsea’s only true centre-forward.
The problem with relying upon the Spaniard for goals is evident and when the potential for injuries is taken into account, it is incredible that Torres is Chelsea’s only ever-present outfielder this season. He regularly suffered niggling injuries at Liverpool, and at his best, depends upon bursts of incredible acceleration – an attribute Benítez always mentions when explaining his preference for resting players as part of a squad rotation policy.
Ba will surely replace Torres at times, but his ability to play on the left has prompted speculation they can play in the same team. However, the more you consider the history of the two individuals, the harder it is to understand why Benítez would start both players together.
Despite Alan Pardew playing him on the left following Papiss Cissé’s arrival last year, Ba dislikes playing wide. He complained about becoming marginalised and insisted on a return to centre-forward this season, and he was not the most responsible wide player. “I have never really liked defending, chasing people,” he admits.
Ba partnering Torres up front is not impossible, but Benítez is unlikely to stray from his favoured 4-2-3-1 regularly. Besides, neither striker specialises alongside another in a 4-4-2. Ba and Cissé failed to strike up a partnership for Newcastle despite experience together for Senegal.
Torres, too, prefers being fielded alone. He prospered when Steven Gerrard was his closest support at Liverpool, and although Spain have achieved incredible success over the past five years, both Luis Aragonés and Vicente del Bosque struggled to get Torres and David Villa firing simultaneously at major tournaments. Torres’ movement always seems restricted alongside another striker.
It appears Benítez will choose between the two, and he believes Torres will accept the rotation. “When I can change Fernando, I will do,” he says. “He wants the team winning games and he understands that is the way, so he will accept this.” Ba, meanwhile, lacks the status of a striker like Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao, another Chelsea target, whose star quality would have guaranteed regular starts. Ba is 28 in May, and his knee problem has scared off previous suitors, so will be content with a contract that dwarfs his previous total earnings.
Politically, it will be easier for Benítez to favour Torres. Yet Ba has scored 36 goals in 66 matches since his move to the Premier League two years ago – Torres has scored just 14 in 65 during that period, despite playing alongside more creative team-mates.
Benítez will rotate, but it will be fascinating to see his selection decisions for Chelsea’s big games.