Analyzing Fernando Torres' Performance vs. Steaua Bucharest
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It wasn't so much a game of two halves but a tale of three thirds for Fernando Torres against Steaua Bucharest.
For an hour he was anonymous, abject, unwilling, unwanting and any other number of adjectives which have been used to describe the majority of his two year stint at Stamford Bridge.
His only notable contributions during a vacant first half was to get out of the way for Juan Mata's opener and then inadvertently get in the way of a scramble to tee up Steaua's response.
Aside from that the only reason to recognise Torres was to realise that he was doing absolutely nothing.
As Chelsea buzzed and went for the throat, Mata and Eden Hazard zipped about the final third posing the sort of menace that should have had a predatory striker licking his lips in anticipation.
Instead, Torres dragged his shoulders around making half-hearted attempts to get involved here and there before fading into obscurity when a potent outlet was desperately sought.
With the Blues needing a couple of goals to progress after the interval, there was little discernible difference in Torres' attitude or application.
He chased a few lost causes and challenged high balls flung his way but again there was no cohesion between him and the rest, and with the attacking midfield trio still getting to the periphery there were no obvious signs Torres was the man to find the breakthrough.
Then––out of nowhere––he scored. In truth the goal summed up his performance up until that point. He looked almost shocked that Hazard's clever dummy found him and his first touch was mechanical as he ambled past his marker before rolling a left footed shot into the far corner.
As the ball crept in, Torres wheeled away towards the West Stand looking more relieved than rejoicing and puffing his cheeks out like a defendant in the dock found not guilty.
In a way Torres has been consistently on trial since his British record £50 million switch from Liverpool in January 2011 and the weight of evidence against him has long been mounting.
Judge, jury and executioners have been unanimous in sentencing him as a failure and surely his time will be served come the summer?
But following his goal the Spaniard was a different man. All of a sudden he had a spring in his step and a purpose to his play. Instead of standing, watching and waiting, he drifted wide and ran the channels to receive, running his markers, showing for the ball and twisting and turning defenders with a slight of foot synonymous with the "old" Fernando Torres.
He may have took a tumble for a penalty which was correctly not given, but he got up and put himself forward to take––and miss––one awarded after Hazard had been chopped in the area.
Undeterred he led the line until the finish, fighting for possession and skinning a couple of defenders to create opportunities for Mata and Yossi Benayoun.
With Chelsea protecting a slender advantage there would have been few inside the stadium not wanting to hear the final whistle, but Torres was certainly one.
It's a well worn adage that goals give confidence but has there ever been a more pertinent example than for this player? He really is a sports psychologists dream.
The contrast before and after he struck was astonishing. He looked faster, fitter, sharper and most importantly, like a player who wanted to play and score for Chelsea.
Fernando Torres becomes the first Chelsea player to score in seven different competitions in the same season #Lethal— Gary Stonehouse (@garystonehouse) March 14, 2013
But let's not get too excited and misty eyed about the possibility of finally seeing the goods. It is worth noting that we've been here before. For ten minutes after that goal against Manchester United in September 2011, Torres was unplayable, but immediately after that miss, he shrank back into his shell and was not seen again for some time.
Similarly, after that goal in the Nou Camp, Torres went on to score three the following game against Queens Park Rangers in what proved to be another false dawn. So what should we expect now?
Ordinarily I'd be petitioning for Demba Ba to start against West Ham on Sunday but for multiple reasons it has to be Torres.
Ba isn't pulling up many trees himself and there is no sense in sidelining Torres when he's just come off the field with his mojo restored. You can virtually guarantee that just as Torres was always likely to not do much against Steaua until he scored, he's just as certain to come flying out of the traps on a mission against the Hammers.
Who knows what another goal early on could do for his self belief, and whilst I'm far from predicting the rebirth of Fernando Torres, Rafa Benitez knows him well enough to understand what makes him tick.
Unfortunately one trip, slip or fall could equally put him back to square one but at this juncture of the season, Benitez should be doing his all to cultivate one prominent goalscoring threat and at present the emphasis lies with Torres.
His long-term future probably still lies away from Chelsea, but in the interim getting him playing with a bravado and bullishness should be the priority for the Blues.
Chelsea will never fully get what they paid for, but over the next ten weeks Fernando Torres can put a silver lining around the cloud.
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