Whilst the West London derby may have finished a goalless draw, there was another scoreline that surely read Fernando Torres 0-1 Dimitar Berbatov as the Bulgarian gave the Spaniard a lesson in class and diligence.
Despite new Blues manager Rafael Benitez’ insistence this week that Torres could be rebuilt back in to the striker he brought to Liverpool, the Spaniard showed no signs of life just yet in another woeful and, frankly, uncomfortable performance for Chelsea.
Meanwhile Berbatov had almost twice as many touches of the ball as the Blues striker in what was a marvelous exhibition in how a centre-forward can contribute to their team, even if they fail to find the back of the net.
Berbatov roamed the entire pitch – the left and right flanks, the centre of the park, he got back to defend in his own box and played his way out from the back in Fulham’s half.
Torres managed just two touches in Chelsea’s defensive half – one if which was only barely over the halfway line, compared to the Bulgarian’s 18 – in that respect he is as much a playmaker as he is a striker.
In fact, Berbatov made the majority of his passes and play, not in the attacking third, but in attacking midfield areas – of 29 offensive touches, only 3 were inside the Chelsea penalty area, he was the architect of almost all of Fulham’s attacking play.
His manager spoke after the game of the quality of his striker’s performance against their archrivals.
“Berbatov was almost unplayable and linked our play, and we had a few chances. After the game, everyone said Berbatov was fantastic, and he was, but the other players worked every so hard,” explained Martin Jol.
That is the key for me – the gulf between the two players at the present moment. Where Berbatov will travel all over the pitch to, not only create the play, but offer himself to support his teammates, Torres casts a lonely figure making predictable angular runs that create little in the way of inspirational attacking play.
When a player has the ball at his feet and he looks up, if he sees someone moving into space, if he sees someone darting ahead or coming in towards him, wanting the ball, he will pass to that player. That is how phases of play are created – by moving into space. Just as defending is all about denying space and closing down. They are equal and opposite forces.
When Fernando Torres doesn’t score, it’s not just because he lacks confidence and we all know he has the ability – it’s because his teammates are reluctant to pass to him. And why’s that? Because doesn’t help them to create – he doesn’t make them pass to him because there’s usually someone else on who’s in a better position or who had already read the pass. That’s what Berbatov excels at – he’s always a step ahead of the game. It shouldn’t just be the creative midfield players or the tricky wingers who carve out a chance on goal.
The striker should not be just a leech, sucking the energy of the team, he should be generating energy and momentum, even if it’s just by dragging defenders around after him, making space for his teammates to operate in, or dropping deep to affect the play like a part-time trequartista.
If Rafael Benitez truly wants to improve and rebuild Fernando Torres, as he claims, he should sit him down with a notepad and a pen in front of a DVD of last night’s game and instruct him to write a title at the top of the page and underline it “Dimitar Berbatov’s Masterclass".