Worst Milan team in a generation – and Fernando Torres can't get in it

Atletico boy wonder, Liverpool phenomenon, Chelsea flop – and now Fernando Torres can't get in the Milan side either. Paul Wilkes explains why...

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Berlusconi-era Milan has had more than its fair share of failed star signings: huge names who promised much but delivered little. Ronaldinho suffered from injuries and poor lifestyle choices, while Kaka – World Player of the Year in his first spell at the Rossoneri – lasted just nine months after returning from Real Madrid before his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

Those flops didn't affect a squad with enough quality to cover for the under-achievers, but the current financial restrictions and inconsistent youngsters make it less possible for Milan to carry an expensive passenger like Fernando Torres.

The Spaniard's time at Chelsea bears comparison to the Milanese experiences of Ronaldinho and (second time around) Kaka: trophies may have been won, but almost in spite of the big name rather than because of him.

Stamford Bridge was a protracted, mystifying agony for the former El Niño who captained Atletico Madrid at 19 and became a Premier League phenomenon with Rafael Benitez's Liverpool. Having turned 30 in the spring, he desperately needed a fresh start and a two-year loan to Milan looked a good opportunity.

However it already seems that, again, Nando's face doesn't fit. He scored on his full debut against Empoli, but hasn't contributed directly to a goal thereafter. In their opening two matches without him Milan scored eight; in his nine games they've managed just 12.

True, five of those pre-Torres goals were scored against bottom club Parma, who also conceded seven to champions Juventus. But it's still illustrative that the team has found goals harder to come by with the Spaniard spearheading the attack.

Why Torres can't get in the team

The main reason for this isn't even particularly Torres's fault: it's just that the forward line of Keisuke Honda, Jeremy Menez and Stephan El Shaarawy combines better as a unit.

Playing on the right wing, Japanese international Honda offers significant defensive protection for his full-back, while his quick passing on the turn means he is perfectly suited to beginning counter-attacks.

Honda is the team's leading scorer with six goals, even if doubts persist over his ability to convert that rate to the bigger matches, as his strikes to date have been against Lazio, Parma, Empoli, Chievo and Verona.

At least he's among the goals: El Shaarawy's superb long-range finish against Sampdoria was his first for 19 months. The 22-year-old will be hoping his fitness issues are behind him and that he can fulfil his talent.

Operating from the left, El Shaarawy has the space to cut inside onto his favoured right foot and shoot from distance because Menez plays as a false nine – and it's the Frenchman's role that is key to the function of the three fluid attackers.

Menez drops into areas that make it difficult to track and his selfless movement is what allows others to thrive. His clever passing and creativity links his team-mates together, while from his drifting position he has supplied four goals and an assist. It's Menez that's affected the most by the inclusion of Torres, as he often finds himself moved into another position or left out the team altogether.

Is Torres any use at all?

The common feeling is that Torres will never regain his former glory, but he can still be of use at Milan. Arriving as a substitute against Sampdoria, he stretched the opposition defence and offered a different threat with his direct runs.

This is probably his best opportunity to influence matches for now, at least until he regains some confidence and find his place within the team.

Further reading

"The most disappointing thing about the woes of the Milanese is that much of it could have been prevented"

– Greg Lea on the decline and fall of both Milan clubs

If selected for the Milan derby this weekend, the Spaniard will face his old foe Nemanja Vidic. Internazionale's centre-back was regularly tormented by Torres when the two met for Manchester United and Liverpool. Even when Vidic was at his peak, he struggled to cope with the pace and power of Torres.

Now the two players are very much on the wane, but at least Vidic can rely on the eternal need for a big man at the back. Milan manager Filippo Inzaghi was also a prolific goalscorer in his career and it's perhaps difficult for him to accept that his team is better off without a natural No.9 – especially if it's Torres.

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