The moral of Chelsea's season might end up being "be careful what you wish for". Their owner, Roman Abramovich, spent £75m on Fernando Torres and David Luiz during the January transfer window to re-energise their flagging campaign but the result has been the polar opposite.
The sums never seem to add up at Chelsea, who announced a loss of £71m on the same day they spent even more again on two new recruits. The profit and loss margin since that day makes just as uncomfortable reading as the recent set of club accounts – two games, one point, no goals.
Those who enjoy a dash of schadenfreude with their football will no doubt be taking great delight at the sight of Torres struggling for a goal in a Chelsea shirt. The great Spaniard seemingly had forgotten the skill of bringing the ball under control against Fulham on Monday night, as four chances to break his duck for his new club went begging. However, it was not just Torres who looked a little lost on a chilly night by the Thames. The rest of the Chelsea side were laboured and off-key, as if the arrival of Torres and the defender Luiz had destabilised the team, rather than strengthened it.
Their fledgling recovery following the worst run in form for more than a decade has been blown off course by the intervention of Abramovich. Before Torres joined, Chelsea had won four and drawn one of their previous five games; since he arrived they have lost one and drawn one.
Ancelotti has tinkered with his formation in an attempt to accommodate Torres but it has not so far worked. He did not dare to change tactics when Chelsea were going through their "bad moment" in the build-up to Christmas, having been talked out of making alterations to the system by the players. But he has done just that to squeeze in Torres, and the goals have dried up as a consequence.
What Ancelotti needs is time; time to work in training on building up an understanding between Torres and the other strikers; time to settle on a formation that will work, and then putting in the hours in training to make it happen instinctively; time for the other players to become accustomed to how Torres likes to receive the ball; time for the back four, and the midfield, to adjust to the arrival of Luiz and his tendency to dribble from the heart of the defence.
However, time is something Ancelotti does not have, and it is something not even Abramovich can buy. Chelsea are finding out the hard way why so many clubs do not like buying players in January, because it can cause damage in the short term. Bring in new faces in the summer and you have weeks to make the necessary alterations to tactics; do it in the winter, and you only have a few days to make a few hasty adjustments.
Torres is simply too good a player, and Ancelotti too good a manager, for the whole thing not to work, sooner or later. The danger is that Chelsea could slip so far behind Tottenham in the race for fourth place that instead of contesting the Champions League next season, they could be looking at the Europa League.
The recent dropped points to Liverpool and Fulham have left Chelsea in fifth, two points behind Spurs. That could be about to get much worse, however, as the fixtures are starting to conspire against Ancelotti. Should Chelsea beat Everton in their FA Cup fourth-round replay on Saturday, they will have to move their upcoming home game against Manchester United to later in the season to accommodate their fifth-round tie with Reading. That would mean their next league game would be the trip to Blackpool on 7 March, by which time they could have fallen eight points behind Tottenham, should Harry Redknapp's side win their games at Blackpool and Wolverhampton.
Chelsea would have games in hand, but the pressure would be immense on them to win them. Ancelotti said on Monday night he is confident Chelsea will finish in fourth place, despite their recent hiccups. The arrivals of Torres and Luiz have certainly increased the options open to Ancelotti. However, it could be argued he is now spoilt for choice, and the pressure is mounting on whether he can find a solution in time to save Chelsea's season.
Upsetting the applecart?
9 January Chelsea 7-0 Ipswich
15 January Chelsea 2-0 Blackburn
24 January Bolton 0-4 Chelsea
29 January Everton 1-1 Chelsea
1 February Sunderland 2-4 Chelsea
P5, W4, D1, F18, A3
6 February Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool
14 February Fulham 0-0 Chelsea
P2, W0, D1, F0, A1Reuse content