On a breezy night in west London, Chelsea’s defence of their Champions League title against Juventus was anything but simple. This writer had the pleasure of attending the game last night and the sense of élan that being European Champions brought to the King's Road was palpable. However, Chelsea never make it easy for themselves, and were guilty of switching off after going 2-0 up to let the Italian Champions back into the game; the full-time score of 2-2 was a fair representation of the match. There were both positives and negatives for Chelsea to take from the game, the main bright spot being youngster Oscar's fabulous brace, and the downside being Torres, who, as on Saturday against QPR, gave a masterclass in sulking.
At the ripe young age of 21, Oscar has been widely acclaimed as the future of Brazilian football. 'He's the new Kaka!' sing tabloids eagerly, conveniently forgetting that everyone in football is the new someone these days. Oscar was brought in to eventually fill Lampard's boots as Chelsea's box-to-box midfielder, an apprenticeship that may be somewhat complicated by the fact that currently, Lampard occupies defensive midfield for the club. However, yesterday, Roberto di Matteo started Oscar in his preferred role behind the forward, and despite being anonymous for the best part of half an hour, really came into his own after scoring his two goals.
His first was a scrappy, jammy effort, taking a huge deflection past Buffon to bamboozle the keeper. But the main thing it did was take the handbrake off his creative talents and imbue him with the assurance to take a shot for his second. Picking the ball up from Ashley Cole, he shimmied away from Vidal, dinked the ball away from Pirlo, whom he then evaded to pick it up from beyond both players, and curled the ball into the top corner of the goal. If there was an award for football-ballet, Oscar would take all the Oscars. Stamford Bridge leapt to their feet to applaud an effort so splendid than even Zola would have been proud of it.
Eyebrows were raised when Oscar was given the number 11 shirt
Oscar also gave a hard-working shift in trying to neuter the Juventus attack, and he did a proficient job; the two goals that Chelsea conceded lay at fault with the central defenders and Mikel, not Oscar. It was noted that Pirlo had a quiet game by his high standards, and much of that is down to Oscar, who was hot on the Italian's heels all night. Indeed, the Italian veteran won’t be pleased with the ease in which Oscar turned him, but such was the Brazilian’s twinkle-toed sorcery, that he somehow managed to make it look easy.
Eyebrows were raised when Oscar was given the number 11 shirt that was so immortalized by the tempestuous but magnificent talents of Didier Drogba, with few thinking this clean-shaven Christian yuppie had what it took to step into the shoes of the Ivorian. But on Oscar's show-stealing turn yesterday, he could prove his detractors wrong. Those of us who watched Oscar in the Olympics will not be too surprised to see such wonderful ball-play, but I had reckoned we would need to wait a while before he replicated the form he has shown in his country with us. A handful of substitute appearances and a start was evidently all he needed.
From the man who inherited Drogba's shirt number to the man who was supposed to thrive as Drogba's departure released the monkey off his shoulder, what Torres would have given to have scored just one of Oscar's goals. The Spaniard started the game brightly enough, as if knowing he owed Chelsea one for his mega-strop at being substituted after an ineffective afternoon at Loftus Road. He did a few of those lung-bursting runs in the early stages of the game that we don't often associate with Torres. But when things didn't go for him, as you wouldn't expect against a Juve side who haven’t lost a league game for a year, that mope of his came back and Torres sported a mien so sullen that it would make Kristen Stewart look cheerful. As his face got grumpier and grumpier, his influence on the game waned and waned.
When it comes to Fernando Torres, we have given and given and given. It is time he returned the favour.
There are those Chelsea fans who would still say we need to be patient with Torres, that he's like a great artist who needs to let inspiration come to him. To which I say, BS. Chelsea fans' loyalty to Torres has been unwavering throughout his embarrassing dry spells. When he does occasionally find his shooting boots, such as his hat-trick at home to QPR last season, I was in the crowd singing his name as loud as anybody else's, because we all know he is a confidence player who needs to feel he is loved.
Likewise, post-Drogba departure, Chelsea more than made good on their promise to make Torres the focal point of their attack, spending £80million to bring in Hazard, Oscar and Marin to supply him with goal-scoring chances. Like Oscar, Hazard was one of Chelsea's finest performers last night. He has had a stellar season so far, with a goal and six assists to his name, two of which set up Torres. The link-up play between Hazard and Torres has at times been scintillating and hints at a fruitful partnership. But there will be times when this partnership doesn’t yield fruit, and when this does happen, Torres needs to wipe that look off his face and get on with it.
Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard are two Chelsea players who never let their heads get down and work tirelessly for the good of the team. Torres would do well to learn from them, rather than thinking of himself all the time. Lampard, Cole, and the vast majority of the Chelsea squad are men who play for the fans; it is this undefeatable unity and spirit that saw us defeat Barcelona and Bayern when both have better squads than us. Sadly, I am yet to be convinced Torres is one of those players. When it comes to Fernando Torres, we have given and given and given. It is time he returned the favour.
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