- Missing Link
- The Club
Much had been made of how a Drogba-less, Fernando Torres Chelsea would fair this season. A change of style and change of manager meant that the Fernando Torres Chelsea haven’t fared too badly – with Torres in goal scoring form since the arrival of Benitez. But with the sale of Daniel Sturridge and Torres’ rollercoaster form, the front line looked more than a little bare. And so, in came one half of Newcastle’s Senegalese partnership.
Rest assured, this isn’t an “omg! Ba scored two goals on his debut he’s gonna be amazing!!!!!” type thing. I travelled to St. Mary’s on Saturday and kept a keen and close eye on the new man. Obviously, Ba has impressed since his arrival in English football with West Ham and then Newcastle. But, I was quite surprised with how impressive he was. There were striking resemblances with Drogba.
Firstly, the build of the two players are almost identical. Both are tall with incredible power. By “power”, I don’t mean strength. I mean the scientific equation of Strength x Speed. On Saturday, Ba brushed aside the likes of Fonte, Yoshida and Schneiderlin with strength and pace. How many times did we see Drogba use his power to breeze past opposition players?
Of course, Drogba wasn’t the player he was just for his physical attributes. He had real quality in technical skills – precise passing, accurate shooting and neat little flicks. Before Saturday’s game, I didn’t think Ba possessed that level of skill. But, there were a number of times where the slightest of touches gave him the space he needed to carry on a run or make a pass. One particular piece of skill stood out to me. The new boy was given a square ball, with (if my memory serves me correctly) Yoshida charging in from the side and looked certain to win the ball. But, an audacious little jink of the ball with just enough backspin lifted the ball over Yoshida’s on rushing leg and allowed Ba to carry on. Beautiful play.
The final similarity comes in the form of Ba’s runs and team play. Drogba was always a master at making space for himself and his teammates on the pitch. I think this is what impressed me most about Ba’s first performance. The intelligence of his runs were far too much for Fonte and Yoshida to handle – and I would guess would be too much for some of the Premier League’s top defenders to deal with. With the ball at the feet of Moses, Mata, Hazard, Marin or Azpilicueta out wide, he peeled away from the defenders with such ease – one of which almost resulted in his hat-trick goal. It is one thing to make intelligent runs. It is a completely different story to have variation in those runs. To be able to prevent a pattern forming in your play is an acute skill and something that makes the lives of defenders absolute hell.
I had never thought of Ba as a player who integrates his teammates either. He had always seemed like a striker who likes to stay up the pitch, be given the ball and do what he wants with it. But he worked very hard to help the team to play attractive football. At times he made forward runs behind defenders purely to give the likes of Mata and Hazard space in the hole. He made forward runs that the Southampton defence tracked. As the likes of Luiz, Ramires, Cahill and Ivanovic shaped up to fire the long ball up to him, Southampton’s midfielders pushed forward to close it down. That created acres of space for Mata and Hazard in behind Southampton’s midfield with room to move forward.
I am in no way saying that Demba Ba is as good as Drogba was for the club. But he has the potential to have the same impact. Of course, we have Lukaku on loan at West Brom who is performing and scoring well. Who’s to say that he won’t return in the future and overtake Ba. No one knows. For now though, it looks like we could have only spent half a season without Drogba, or at least the new one.
Jonathan Davies @JonathanCDavies