Chelsea's win yesterday against fellow title titans Manchester City was nothing short of terrific. With Fernando Torres' late goal, the west London side redefined the smash and grab win, and that it was against our big-spending competitors who have had the beating of us in recent seasons made it just that extra bit sweeter. Mourinho earned his display of showmanship at the end by celebrating with the fans; he got his starting XI and substitutions spot on. And nobody exemplified this better than Torres, who had one of his best days in Chelsea colours.
Chelsea's mid-week win in Germany was a much-needed result, having suffered a shock defeat to Basel, and against Schalke he secured them the three points with a classy brace, including an acute header within just 5 minutes. So good was his performance then, in fact, against non-QPR-level opposition, that it led to many wondering if he was back to his pre-Chelsea best.
Having missed a sitter that almost begged belief early on against City, the answer to that question looked like it was going to be a resounding no. However, refusing to let that dent his morale, Torres quickly followed up with a brilliant display of footwork to set up Schurrle's goal. It was the sort of thing you'd expect to see from the Oscars, Hazards or David Silvas of the teams, not him. But creating goals has been an aspect of Torres' game that has actually improved since arriving at the Bridge, and his assist yesterday was a particularly stylish one.
This new-look, proactive, non-moping Fernando is a far cry to the sulk I spent my first ever Sabotage Times piece whining about, some 13 months ago. The player that showed up that night was a spoilt brat with a bigger attitude problem than Balotelli and myself put together (if that's even possible). Since then, he finished last season for Chelsea with a goal tally that wasn't as depressing as you'd think, as well as scoring an assured goal in the Europa League final. Whilst that's not quite the return Mr Abramovich would have been hoping for from a £50million investment, he's certainly had his moments.
But the game which Torres really sparked into life this season was Spurs away, exactly a month ago. It was as if, like a toy robot, someone hit a button to power Torres up. The Spaniard enjoyed an afternoon of truculent tussles with Jan Vertonghen that recalled the kind of scraps he had with John Terry when he was at Anfield. So heated did it get between them, that Torres saw himself lucky to receive just a yellow when he clawed Vertonghen's face, only to be sent off later for bringing the same player down. It wasn't the best display of temperament from a professional footballer, but I found myself rooting for his childish actions. Juvenile they may have been, but at least it showed he cared.
Since then, he suffered an injury, and that, compounded with Eto'o getting his first Chelsea goal last weekend, made Torres something of a surprise starter against Schalke. But he vindicated the decision with his goals, and thus played himself into a start against City.
All this is encouraging for Mourinho, whom, it was rumoured before the season started, not to be Fernando's biggest fan. That Torres' form was able to sway the gaffer, when Mourinho has been criticised for being set in his ways if he doesn't like someone (Shevchenko at Chelsea, Casillas at Real, etc), is a true sign that Fernando Torres has escalated past the entitled primadonna that initially arrived.
After Torres' former Atletico Madrid teammate Aguero equalised for City, the game really could have gone either way. The away side were buoyed by their goal, and threw the Chelsea defence into disarray with some neat attacks. We responded in kind, but up until the winner, the risk-averse economist in me would have settled, begrudgingly, for a point.
But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and Joe Hart, who has already invited scrutiny this season for high-profile errors against Cardiff and Bayern Munich, added more doubt to his legitimacy as England's no. 1 with another costly lapse in concentration. A speculative punt from Willian caused confusion as Nastasic left Hart stranded. It was slapstick from both goalkeeper and centre-back, but even so, Torres needed his wits about him to capitalise.
The Spaniard did well, not least given his embarrassing miss earlier in the game. He has not always had such grit about him - recall the Ronnie Rosenthal emulation at the Stretford End two years ago; a long spell of damaged self-confidence and poor body language followed. Yet yesterday, he did not let the early blip affect his concentration, just like he did not let the Spurs sending off affect his stake to the claim of Chelsea's main striker. Rather, Fernando Torres is developing into somewhat of an unlikely inspiration; setbacks do not matter a jot. They merely spur him on to be more efficacious next time.
Since he joined Chelsea in the 2011 Transfer Window, I have done anything but welcomed Torres with open arms. I had my problems with the man, from his Liverpool baggage, to the overinflated price tag, to his playing ahead of Drogba, to the jokes he induced, and so on. Truth be told, ask me a few months earlier and Torres would have run JT close as my least favourite current Chelsea player. My dislike of him used to be so potent that the only thing I could ever bring myself to compliment about him were Nora and Leo, his angelic cutie pie kids. But there was definitely something in the air last night, as Torres capped a Man of the Match performance with an elegant assist and the winning goal. He is working his way into my good books with, whisper it, this revival.
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