Chelsea: Give Up On Torres And Get Garuanteed Goals From Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez
For all football fans, even the many who dislike Chelsea, the seemingly permanent loss of form of Fernando Torres has been a depressing trend to witness over the past two years. This was a player that had scored 81 goals in 143 games for Liverpool, raced to 50 Premier League goals faster than any of the club’s legendary strikers and had been the main reason behind the club’s closest title push for almost twenty years in 2008-09.
The fact that Chelsea still had Didier Drogba to call upon last season was the reason they won the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, not the management of Roberto di Matteo and in the case of the latter, certainly not Torres’ goal in the Camp Nou in the semi-final second leg against Barcelona. Conversely, the fact that Drogba is now gone and the club must now rely on Torres, and Torres only, to lead the attack is the reason why they won’t win the Premier League title this season. It’s also partly why they are out of the Champions League and faltering domestically, not even considering the last three games under new interim coach Rafa Benitez, Torres’ former mentor at Liverpool.
Chelsea need more than a partner for Torres, they need a replacement for him, and while the likes of Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani or even Sergio Aguero would probably be top of their list, I consider Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez to be a viable option to take Torres’ place.
Gomez is quite simply a goalscorer, nothing more and nothing less. As a footballer, he has his limitations. He isn’t particularly quick, he’s not the hardest of workers, his first touch lets him down and his strike rate isn’t as good as people might expect.
Most of us will remember Bayern’s run to the Champions League final last season, where they lost to Chelsea on penalties at home in the Allianz Arena. In the semi-final second leg against Real Madrid, Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer were the ones who took the plaudits, the former for scoring a penalty in normal time and the latter for saving Madrid’s spot-kicks in the shootout. People forget, though, that Bayern might have had the game wrapped up, both before and after the 90 minutes had been played, were it not for Gomez fluffing his lines in front of Iker Casillas on more than one occasion.
The same was true in the first leg, which Bayern won 2-1, and nobody, least of all Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur supporters, has forgotten how far Gomez fell short in the final against Chelsea. Indeed, the club’s President Uli Hoeneß remarked harshly but by all means truthfully after the agonising defeat, “If Mario Gomez was a great player, we would have won the Champions League.”
After the disappointment of May 19th, Gomez had a better time of things at UEFA Euro 2012. Often flattering to deceive for Germany (ever in the shadows of Miroslav Klose, he failed to score at Euro 2008 and at the FIFA World Cup in 2010) he finally made his mark on an international tournament by scoring the winner against Portugal and both goals in the 2-1 victory over neighbours the Netherlands, making it three goals in his first two games. His efficiency in front of goal was what astounded people, with all three strikes coming from just eight touches of the ball inside the penalty area.
This term, his progress has been curtailed by an ankle injury suffered in pre-season, from which he only returned to action two weeks ago. Nevertheless, he showed absolutely no sign that his sharpness in front of goal had suffered. Remarkably it was the opposite - he took just 26.2 seconds after making his comeback to find the back of the net again, notching the fifth goal in a 5-0 home win over Hannover 96.
Now it is much to Bayern Munich’s delight to have someone back to fitness who possesses the type of goal threat that Gomez does, but it isn’t to their relief. In his absence, it’s been his namesake Mario Mandzukic who has been stealing the headlines and establishing himself as the club’s leading striker.
Another player who enjoyed an excellent EURO 2012 on a personal level, Mandzukic has fitted in seamlessly at Säbenerstraße. He scored inside three minutes on his debut in the SuperCup against Borussia Dortmund and is now joint-top of the Bundesliga goalscoring charts, with nine in 15 appearances.
His record speaks for itself, but crucially, and this is what distinguishes him from Gomez, he is a more than just a finisher – Mandzukic is a team player. He makes runs in behind the defence - something that Gomez rarely does – he chases down lost causes and he has a touch good enough to partake in the interplay at close quarters with the rest of the Bayern attack, especially Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Franck Ribéry.
Gomez actually had 13 goals in the Bundesliga and another six in the Champions League at this stage of the campaign last season, but that even that type of goal return isn’t enough to guarantee him a starting berth this time around. Bayern wanted a striker with more variation to his game and they found one in Mandzukic, who provided as many as 12 league assists for VfL Wolfsburg last season, something that made the Reds even more determined to secure his services. It’s unlikely that Gomez will force his way back into the Bayern Munich starting line-up, and the presence of Claudio Pizarro, the Bundesliga’s record foreign goalscorer with 160 goals, only makes that challenge for him even more difficult.
Which is why, for him, and for Chelsea, a move to the Blues would make sense. Four, maybe even two years ago, there was no debating who was the better player between Gomez and Fernando Torres. But ask the question, ‘Who is the better goalscorer?’ and it most certainly isn’t the former Liverpool marksman. He looks nowadays as though he has forgotten what a striker does. He makes the wrong runs, rarely gets into the box at all and is incredibly blinkered when in possession of the ball, never quite knowing when to pass and when to run with it.
He does see a lot of the ball playing for Chelsea, regularly dropping deep to involve himself in the build-up to an attack. The fact is, though, that with Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and, when he plays, Frank Lampard, behind him, he simply doesn’t need to drop deep, and he rarely did so at Liverpool with the likes of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard supporting him. Instead, Torres is now nowhere to be seen when crosses comes into the middle, and playing against him is very easy for defenders, since they don’t need to give him a second thought. It is actually often Mata who is in the more advanced position and who opposition defenders need to be more worried about, as Spurs and West Ham have found out this season.
Gomez’s game isn’t conducive to playing the neat one-touch passing that Mata & Co. would specialise in either, but that he neither can nor needs to get involved in the build-up play. This is what makes him a better fit for Chelsea than Torres. He rarely strays away from the penalty area and even less frequently comes as deep as the half-way line. He knows almost nothing else other than lurking in the box, waiting to pounce on loose balls. Unlike with Torres, defenders need to keep him an eye on him all the time, because when the ball is in the penalty area, Gomez is always in the vicinity, like a Ruud van Nistelrooy or even a Gerd Müller. Of course his footballing talent is limited, but goals win games and he simply scores more of them than most.
One thing we mustn’t discount is that Torres’ confidence is shot to bits, and it’s the job of Benitez to help restore in him that self-belief. Yet Gomez is very much a confidence player as well. When he’s in form, he’s prolific, and when he’s off colour, he can seemingly do no right. But one way or the other, he’s clever enough to always be in the right position where chances will fall to him, and though he may miss a few, he always scores as well, 87 in 158 games for Stuttgart, 95 in 146 for Bayern Munich and 25 in 57 for Germany.
In the time that Torres has been at Chelsea, Gomez has actually scored 67 times for club and country. No forward who does that is going to be too low on confidence.