Tottenham went to the San Siro today, and were trounced. The scoreline may read 4-3, but Spurs were never in it, three highly difficult individual goals, and three very difficult finishes against a team that had obviously stopped caring gave the end result some respectability. (The British media will go on and on about how Spurs showed heart and grit, etc etc, real contenders for Premiership and can make noise in Europe etc etc, believe none of it, Spurs are an above average side that play attractive football, nothing more nothing less.)
To get to the point of the article, the fact that Tottenham were out of the game at the end of the first half was largely due to one man, Samuel Eto’o. He had a part in all four goals, setting up Zanetti, playing a one-two with Stankovic, and scoring twice, winning the penalty as well. Eto’o is having a resurgent season under Benitez and nobody should be surprised.
It’s fair to say that Liverpool have looked impotent offensively this season, but under Benitez they always had at least one man who looked like scoring every game. That man, Fernando Torres, has been awful this season, and it all can’t be due to his own poor form. If he was getting chances and missing them, then he can be blamed, but blaming him for not scoring when he gets two or three shots a game is just wrong. Under Benitez, Torres finished with 33, 17 and 22 goals, in often injury-hit seasons. What last season proved was that Liverpool don’t have a deep squad, but their first team is still relatively strong when used properly. If Torres had played the same amount of games as Rooney, (32 for Rooney to just 22 in the league for Torres), then Liverpool would have surely finished higher than seventh. The way Eto’o is going, he is going to put up great numbers this year as well, so perhaps Roy Hodgson should make a phone call and ask how to utilize star strikers.
Eto’o and Torres are similar players, great finishers, good pace, good at distributing the ball to players who make runs around them. They are strong, but differently to players like Heskey and Zamora. Neither can hold up play that effectively, but can beat defenders in the air and perhaps shrug off a challenge or two when latching onto a ball. The way Benitez played them utilized their attributes, having them in the middle of the center backs, making runs of their backs for balls played into space. Occasionally they drifted wide for players like Gerrard to steamroll through vacant areas, but mostly the finishing of moves flowed through them. Now, Torres is coming towards the midfield to receive the ball, instead of the other way around, so more players can load up on him, stalling the offense. When he isn’t doing that, he seems to make more runs off the full backs, especially noticeable against Manchester United when he was dragging O’Shea out of position. All of this takes him away from goal, when he is really only useful to a team running towards goal.
As the major leagues evolve and slowly start to phase out one-dimensional players, Fowler, Owen etc, it becomes imperative that you handle the ones good enough to survive as well as possible. Eto’o and Torres are some of the last pure strikers out there, along with players like Klose and Raul. Eto’o can play in a wide position of the front three, but his quality is sharply reduced. The rest are not good at tracking back or tackling, cannot play as false nines, can’t be target men, if they’re not going to be used properly they’re a liability.
All managers make mistakes on the job, that doesn’t mean they should be sacked. The important thing is that they assess why their teams have underperformed and make it right. If after 8 league games your approach hasn’t worked it’s time to try another one.