34-year-old Ivorian has been preferred to his Spanish team-mate in the Blues' biggest matches this season, but might not remain at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of the campaign
By Oliver Platt
Sensing the impending decline and departure of Didier Drogba, Roman Abramovich authorised the spending of £68 million on two strikers, Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku, in the space of seven months in 2011.
It would seem inconceivable, then, for Abramovich to find his team facing uncertainty at the centre forward position as Drogba's exit edges closer. Frank Lampard has urged the Blues hierarchy to extend the Ivorian's deal but disagreements as to the length of a potential new contract persist. The club have offered Drogba one more year, but the striker wants two.
The 34-year-old remains Chelsea's man for the big occasion. His goalscoring record at Wembley is sensational - eight in as many appearances - and he has consistently raised his game in the Champions League knockout stages, but his Premier League tally has declined from 29 goals, to 11, to 5, with two matches left to play, in the past three seasons.
Chelsea have won the FA Cup and might just secure Champions League qualification by winning the tournament but a glance at the league table reveals a less flattering reality.
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Roberto Di Matteo deserves only credit for the way he has rejuvenated Chelsea's ageing core but while Andre Villas-Boas can be criticised for the way he attempted to lower the average age of the first-team, his goal was a sensible one.
Petr Cech is only 29-years-old while John Terry, at 31, still has plenty to contribute both as a player and a mentor to the likes of David Luiz and Gary Cahill. In midfield, the transfer of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien's power to Juan Mata and Ramires has already begun, but up front the situation is less certain.
Lukaku is still a teenager and remains one for the future, as evidenced by his very sporadic involvement this season. Drogba may or may not be around to help out but Chelsea desperately need Torres to become their star striker next season.
Di Matteo, or whoever becomes the next Chelsea manager on a permanent basis, will have a tricky decision on his hands. While Torres' quality at his peak has never been in question, the Spaniard cannot expect the Blues to wait much longer for him to deliver. A horrendous start to his career at Stamford Bridge has turned in to one-and-a-half prolonged seasons of mostly struggle and disappointment.
Optimism soared after Torres' hat-trick against QPR, in addition to his late goal at Camp Nou against Barcelona, but consistency is the trait Chelsea require if they are to make some progress in closing the gap between themselves and the league leaders next season.
Many theories have been offered in an attempt to explain the 28-year-old's difficulties. Some say the Chelsea style of direct, counter-attacking football, in which the centre forward is required to come deep to hold up the ball due to the lack of a 'No. 10', does not suit him.
Others suggest he simply lacks the ruthless confidence of his dazzling time with Liverpool, but the credibility of that viewpoint is diminishing since none of Torres' occasional strikes seem to lift any sort of weight off of his shoulders.
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His injury history has perhaps been under-scrutinised. Chelsea paid £50m for a player who had constantly struggled with hamstring problems and had surgery on his knee eight months before moving to London. After that procedure, he scored nine goals in 23 top flight appearances for the Reds in the full season prior to his departure – not a bad record by any means, but a significant decrease on his return of 18 goals in 22 league appearances the previous year.
The speed and strength of the centre forward seem to remain, but often Torres' balance and explosiveness underwhelm. His cameo in the second leg against Barcelona, for example, ended in glory but was preceded by numerous clumsy touches and uncoordinated play.
Drogba will go down as one of Chelsea's greatest strikers because of his phenomenal knack of arriving on the scene just when his team needed him most. Tuesday's league fixture against Liverpool may not carry the significance of the weekend’s FA Cup final but, given his Anfield past, the home crowd will do their best to make sure Torres feels the heat.
A goal or two might help Chelsea edge closer to the Champions League qualification places but perhaps, just as importantly, they might also concerned minds at ease.