With Demba Ba completing his move to Chelsea, there is now genuine competition for Fernando Torres up front. The Spaniard’s form has ebbed and flowed with that of the team in general, and has caused such concern that Chelsea felt it necessary to bolster their attack in the transfer window which has just opened.
Such a move is fundamentally short term. Ba is known to have a degenerative knee injury, while he does not represent the major signing Chelsea may have wanted. Radamel Falcao has no intention of leaving Atlético Madrid until the end of the season, and even then his departure is more likely to be across the Spanish capital to Real. Edinson Cavani will not be joining either, as he signed a new long term contract with Napoli at the start of the season. He has no intention of leaving, the club do not want to sell him.
Fernando Llorente is set to leave Athletic Bilbao, but seems bound for Juventus. Klaas Jan Huntelaar has extended his deal with Schalke 04. With the list of transfer targets dwindling, and Chelsea keen to bring in a player proven in the Premier League if possible, Ba represented the obvious and best value option.
So where will he fit in? It seems unlikely that he could play alongside Torres. The Senegalese has complained in the past about playing on the left side for Newcastle, and his dislike for tracking back would render Ashley Cole particularly vulnerable on that side of the pitch. Torres has struggled in the past playing in partnership with another centre forward, and he was unable to flourish with Drogba alongside him when he first arrived from Liverpool. Rafa Benitez is a methodical coach, one who emphasises the collective and trains his teams are fundamentally compact, with few spaces between the lines, and quick transitions made from one phase of play to the next.
Demba Ba could fit into such a system, but only realistically as a centre forward. So his arrival would seem to mean that he will share the duties in that position with Torres. The intriguing question will therefore be how effective they are in sharing the goalscoring burden. Will Torres thrive with competition for his place? It is questionable, given that he is a player prone to losses of confidence and therefore form. Ba has been prolific for Newcastle when given a consistent run in the team and being played as the centre forward, the focal point of their attack. He is well suited to a reactive game, and it will be interesting to see how he works with the creative trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata.
A superb header of the ball, Ba’s instinctive finishing ability should aid Chelsea in the second half of the season. But as with so many of Chelsea’s signings, the capture of the Newcastle man raises valid questions about how he will fit into their tactical set up. The Londoners are increasingly becoming a club trying to fit a system around the players they buy, rather than the other way around. What is clear though, is that how successful Ba’s move to Stamford Bridge is will be one of the most interesting themes of the second half of the season.