Torres arrival gives Ancelotti untimely tactical headache
Published 08/02/2011 | 05:00
Carlo Ancelotti has always admitted to a certain amnesia about Liverpool.
"I don't remember. It was a difficult moment, for sure," he said on the eve of his first encounter with them as Chelsea manager 18 months back, when reminded of a night in Istanbul when the boys from the Mersey gave his Milan side a lesson in how tactics can change the course of a game.
"Difficult moments can be good and help you improve," Ancelotti also said of that 2005 Champions League final, though the evidence of the latest defeat to Liverpool suggests he still has some learning to do where tactics are concerned.
There were many reasons for Liverpool's win, which now means Kenny Dalglish has recorded more Premier League points than any other team since he arrived back in the dugout. But Ancelotti's failure to spot the clues as to how Liverpool would approach their task also forms part of the picture.
The word "clues" suggests some kind of cunning plan by Dalglish, though it was rather more obvious than that. Liverpool provided a sneak preview of the 3-5-1-1 system that suffocated Chelsea's strikers, by using it against Stoke City at Anfield last Wednesday night.
What was designed to meet an aerial threat from the Potters also happened to be the perfect deterrent for the most enviable two-man strike force in the league. When Dalglish posted a teamsheet including Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel at 3.15 on Sunday, he sensed his central defence could take a striker each and have a sweeper left over to cover. He was right. Chelsea lacked the width to exploit that system: Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa just couldn't get up the pitch.
Even Torres had to admit that his ex-manager had got the strategy right. "Liverpool played a good game, with three at the back," he said. "We were not expecting that and maybe they took advantage."
This rather bears out the reputation Ancelotti always had in Milan -- as a manager with a rare ability to motivate and relax his players but less capable of responding to events with a radical solution to change a game.
The Chelsea manager did change formation to 4-3-3 eventually on Sunday, though that solution excluded Torres from the fray. And should the new acquisition have started the game in the first place? Probably not. Everyone at Anfield knows Torres doesn't always respond when the tide of events go against him. His 29 touches in 66 minutes, fewer than any other outfield player, told a story.
The question for Chelsea, as they stare up the precipitous slope to a regained title, is how they might quickly fit their strikers together for less tumultuous days than this.
Given that neither Torres nor Didier Drogba can be deployed on either side of an attacking three, the only solution appears to be perseverance with the 4-3-1-2 diamond. But this formation was shattered last October when Jose Bosingwa, one of the two wing-backs this system demands, was injured. Adopting the diamond would also mean jettisoning the 4-3-3 formation which served Ancelotti so well in last season's successful title push. The good news is that Bosingwa is back.
Ancelotti will be dreaming of midfield diamonds before next Monday's visit to Fulham. There is a strong case for Florent Malouda, the casualty of Torres' appearance on Sunday, operating on the left side of Lampard in front of Essien and Jon Obi Mikel, with Anelka at the top behind the striker. Ramires also stakes a claim, having been successful on the right side of one with Benfica and Brazil.
The title race isn't over for Chelsea but February is a time for refining a title-winning strategy, not redefining a team. Six points separate Chelsea from Liverpool, a club Ancelotti once again probably wishes he could forget. (© Independent News Service)