Chelsea can run Manchester United to the finish line, but only if they save the Fernando Torres project until next season

A virulent attacking display without their £50 million against Birmingham on Wednesday night showed that the Spaniard should be left on the bench for the remainder of the campaign
By Josh Clarke at Stamford Bridge

Despite the obvious improvement in performance from his Chelsea team since reverting to a 4-3-3, Carlo Ancelotti refused to commit to deploying a three-pronged attack for the rest of the season after his side's convincing win over Birmingham.

Nor did the Italian confirm that £50 million man Fernando Torres, left out of the starting line-up for a second consecutive game, may have to get used to life on the bench.

Chelsea's dominant attacking display in the first half at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday seemed a world away from the uncoordinated and disjointed performances that have undermined the champions' season.

Yet remarkably for a team that had seemed out of the title picture for months, the Blues now find themselves just six points off table-topping Manchester United with five games left to play.

With the front-runners facing a gruelling run of games in weeks to come, there is still every chance that United can be overhauled – a fact Ancelotti acknowledged with a wry smile last night.

But if Chelsea are to realise their burgeoning title ambitions, one thing has become abundantly clear: the Torres problem will have to be put to one side until summer.

The change of formation to a 4-4-2 to accommodate the misfiring Spaniard has taken Chelsea out of a tactical comfort zone that fits key personnel at the club and has been the basis of success in recent years. And the proof was in the pudding last night as the more familiar shape was adopted, once again leading to a convincing win.

Florent Malouda’s brace, sandwiching Salomon Kalou’s excellent strike from range, saw a return to the blistering form for the duo that characterised the side that romped to the title last year and flew out of the blocks last August.

However, the main star against Birmingham was talisman Didier Drogba; a bustling and intimidating performance showed exactly why the Ivorian is still the main man for this team.

The triumvirate of Kalou, Malouda and Drogba all put in excellent individual performances, but it was the fluid interchange between the three that won the game so convincingly for the Blues.

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The fact that Chelsea were so dominant despite Frank Lampard and Michael Essien underperforming once more underlined the effectiveness of the front three.

After the game, Ancelotti remained coy over the sustained use of this more familial tactical approach – stating that different shapes and personnel are required for different challenges ahead of Saturday’s clash with West Ham. Yet, despite his seeming ambivalence towards a P45 being thrust his way at the end of the season, the Italian is no fool.

Torres started on the bench again after the side impressed in a 3-1 win at West Brom on Saturday without him, and Ancelotti’s team selection at the weekend will likely determine the extent to which he is prepared to sacrifice the Spaniard for the sake of success.

With a genuine chance of snatching the title from the clutches of Manchester United, this surely is no time to be experimenting with square pegs and round holes.

Few doubt that Torres will become a central figure at Stamford Bridge for years to come – with Ancelotti himself calling the striker the "present and the future of the club" – but 725 minutes without a goal is a problem that needs addressing later with the Blues having just 450 Premier League minutes of their season left.

£50m was a considerable amount to spend on one man, but it does not mean that he should be played at the expense of the club's newfound title hopes.

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