Fernando Torres may look unrecognizable in his Zorro mask right now, but there is something familiar about No. 9’s performances of late.
The confidence seems to have returned, the goals are becoming more frequent and he is impacting games like never before at Chelsea. The question any Blues fan will be asking, though, is whether it’s another false dawn.
Well, is it? After all, there have been plenty where the Spaniard is concerned.
During a successful four years with Liverpool, Torres was a menace to any defence he came up against. He had a reputation as being among the world’s deadliest strikers and there weren’t too many defenders who could say they relished the prospect of facing him.
It was that very reputation which persuaded Roman Abramovich to part with £50 million for his services in January 2011, but how the tides have turned since his move south.
From tormenting defences, any angst dished out by Torres these days has invariably been self-inflicted. Defenders across the Premier League have slept a little easier at the thought of facing the Blues with the Spaniard in tow, and where football purists are concerned, his fall from grace has made for painful viewing.
Whether it was the considerable shadow of Didier Drogba lurking over him or impromptu suspensions and goal droughts, luck has often gone against Torres at Stamford Bridge. It’s impacted his form and, after taking 15 games to record his first Chelsea goal, he has struggled to recover.
The media scrutiny has been intense. Watching Torres from the sidelines, his demeanour has made it seem as though he has felt the glare with every pass or touch.
And just when he has seemed to be getting to terms with the expectation, the carpet has been well and truly swept from under him.
The first six months of Torres’ Chelsea career are pretty much a write-off. A solitary strike in 19 outings was far from what was expected, but as Carlo Ancelotti departed Stamford Bridge, the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas in summer 2011 seemed to bring new hope.
Sure, Torres wasn’t finding the back of the net in the beginning stages of 2011-12, but his performances were full of life and he opened his account with an impressive goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford in mid-September.
Where that goal gave flashes of the Torres of old, his scuffed effort with the goal gaping in the same game compounded the Blues’ misery on the day, as they lost 3-1.
Column inches that should have read of Torres’ encouraging performance were instead replaced by tales of ridicule—the has-been striker who Chelsea were duped into signing.
It was a harsh reality and the following outing saw things get worse. Torres opened the scores in Chelsea’s 4-1 victory over Swansea City, although 10 minutes later an ill-judged challenge saw him sent off shortly before the interval.
When he returned from suspension a month later, the momentum was lost and he resembled the player Chelsea supporters were becoming more familiar with.
Indeed, the result would be just two goals in 24 games from October to March last season. And while he would score the goal that sealed Chelsea’s place in the 2012 Champions League final, his frustrations continued as Drogba went on to win the Blues the FA Cup and European Cup almost single-handedly.
With 20 goals to his name this term, however, Torres is Chelsea’s most prolific goalscorer. There have been barren spells, yet his form of late has helped Chelsea’s steady progress under interim manager Rafa Benitez.
His goals proved the difference against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League quarterfinal, while there is no denying his impact in the 2-1 Premier League victory over Sunderland on April 7.
In fact, it took Chelsea just 10 seconds to score against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinal on Sunday following Torres’ appearance from the bench. The Spaniard also had a legitimate penalty claim turned down, which could have seen his team rescue a game they eventually lost 2-1.
They’re promising signs and all point to a high in this journey of peaks and troughs that he has been subjected to in the past two years.
Blues fans will no doubt be on tenterhooks, expecting the worst to come given Torres’ track record.
Is this the calm before the storm or is Torres finally showing his true colors in the blue of Chelsea?