Coinciding with Eminem’s return to form is the surprising rejuvenation of Fernando Torres. As Chelsea fans will know this is something that we have seen and heard far too often. One decent game and the announcement that “TORRES IS BACK” would fly around football circles. Naturally the yen for Torres to actually come good has never subsided, but adopting a pragmatic viewpoint it was hard to see it happening.
I should probably quantify my optimism somewhat. I have been highly critical of Torres since he joined the club. Never, and I stress never, inside the ground, but certainly a vocal critic. I have often sat perplexed as he sulked around the park, barely breaking a sweat. The very least you expect from any player in bad form is some work rate: desire and perhaps his love of the game have been lacking.
Robbed of his electric pace through a mixture of mismanagement at Liverpool and a spate of unfortunate injuries, you could see Torres’s career going the way of Michael Owen. The former Liverpool and England striker was, in his prime, a phenomenally gifted striker. However, as soon as his pace fell away so did Owen, unable to reinvent himself technically or tactically.
Even when he who shall not be named took over from Roberto Di Matteo last season Torres never truly looked at the races. His goal tally would potentially say otherwise, but his Premier League record was still poor. Had Torres fallen foul of Owen-itis or would the Special One be able to resurrect him from the last chance saloon?
It was his performance at Tottenham that really struck a chord with fans and pundits. He ran Vertonghen ragged and had the Spurs centre half not so heinously playacted, he might have bagged the winner. In his entire time here there has never been such a display of pace, power, aggressiveness and desire. Then he gets sent off. Wonderful.
An idea that had been floated around was for Chelsea fans to take turns in putting on a Vertonghen mask and continually try to wind Torres up as he went about his daily life. There had to be something in him being wound up and playing like Fernando Trogba. Maybe Torres’s wife had mentioned that she thought Vertonghen was quite good looking for someone who played for Spurs? Who knows? The Schalke match would have to be the eventual litmus test: was this a one-off?
The game itself panned out perfectly for Chelsea. Torres’s movement was richly rewarded for his first goal. He scored an instinctive header from Ivanovic’s excellent flick-on; it was the type of header that Torres would a) have missed and b) arguably not even been in the position for barely 8 weeks ago. The rest of the first half Schalke probed and worked their way back into the game, but ultimately John Terry and Gary Cahill resisted and the game went in 0-1 at half-time.
The second half seemed to just escape Schalke, despite our midfield at times resembling a porous sieve. Draxler, for all the hype, seemed to just float through a game that demanded more from him. When Oscar and Hazard looked peripheral they exploded twice to put the game out of reach. Draxler merely played the occasional nice pass; considering the amount of money he will supposedly go for I think he has a lot to do before justifying that level of investment.
The defining moment of the game came from a textbook counteract from Chelsea. Eden Hazard, who is starting to consistently influence matters, broke from outside our own area. He carefully avoided having his leg broken in half by Schalke’s heroin addicted Nathan Aké look-a-like before expertly rounding another WWE style flying drop kick. (There seems to be a law in UEFA that allows teams to kick Hazard off the pitch – we might want to look into repealing that).
Oscar continued forward with the ball and showed evidence of a weights programme with his ability to resist being rugby tackled to the ground. While we may expect the swift, decisive and delightful counterattacking abilities of Oscar and Hazard it was Torres’s involvement that pleased the most.
For once he seemed to actually want to be the attacker who was presented with the opportunity. He kept himself onside superbly and his first touch, albeit slightly heavy, rounded the goalkeeper and he was able to slide the ball into the back of the net. He most certainly would not have been up with play last season and arguably would have run the ball into the keeper. His instincts seem to be returning, as evidenced by the fact he knew exactly what he wanted to do as the ball arrived to him.
His last involvement, despite not actually leading to him scoring a goal, was in my opinion the highlight of his evening. Ramires’s clearance-slash-through-ball to Eden Hazard left a very clear two-on-one opportunity to be exploited. The amount of times overloads go wrong at the professional level is unbelievable – mostly due to selfish: importantly in this instance the goal was all about Torres.
Had he maintained his run to the left hand side Hazard in all likelihood would have only been able to slip him through on goal. However, the defender would have been able to sprint across and apply pressure on the shot. Torres’s decision to move offline momentarily caused the centre back to square his shoulders and in turn presented Hazard with two easily executable options. He could elect to ghost past the centre back unchallenged or slide Torres into goal.
Hazard, as his recent form has dictated, glided past the centre back before confidently tucking the ball into the far corner. Torres would have preferred the hat-trick goal, but Mourinho will have noticed the unselfish and intelligent run more than a simple finish. He smiled, looked full of energy, quality and perhaps most importantly is relishing his role as the focal point of Mourinho’s attack.
While this transformation is no doubt a work in progress, the rejuvenation of Torres is slightly more believable now. Torres, by Mourinho’s own admission, is working tremendously hard in training. I have no doubts that this hard work is to transform himself into something more than the mere jet heeled finisher he was at Liverpool. It might be ludicrous to say it now but we could be witnessing a more complete footballer being created.
Before anyone wades in with comments about it only being a handful of games, I know. Torres certainly has a long way to go before he has truly turned a corner. Nevertheless, the difference in Torres this season is stark and should certainly cause some form of optimism amongst Chelsea fans. I would be delighted if he carried on this level of performance. He may never be “the Fernando Torres of old™”, but who knows, what he is turning into might be far more useful than what we thought we were buying?
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