Is Fernando Torres Chelsea's Champions League Dark Horse?
When a striker costs a club £50 million, it's underplaying things somewhat to label him a dark horse, a man who is producing the unexpected.
When that striker is Fernando Torres, however, it's perhaps all the more apt.
The Spaniard has endured a difficult three years in West London. From arriving with God-like status in January 2011, to trading in Liverpool for a move to Stamford Bridge, his star has waned considerably to the point where he has been pretty much written off by many observers.
The goals had dried up and he often cut a tortured figure at Chelsea. Bit by bit, he has started to rebuild the formidable reputation that persuaded the Blues to break the British transfer record to sign him, though, with his form in Europe proving his talent remains as strong as ever.
Torres scored twice for Chelsea in his team's 3-0 win over Schalke in the Champions League on Tuesday evening, bringing his tally to nine goals in his last 10 European outings—Champions League, Europe League and Super Cup.
There's something about a big European night that brings the best out of the 29-year-old. Whether it be the Champions League music ahead of kick-off or the atmosphere under floodlights, Torres is an altogether different animal.
While he struggled to find the back of the net in the second half of the 2012-13 Premier League campaign, the goals flowed in the Europa League.
Torres scored five goals en route to the final and, in the Amsterdam ArenA, he helped put Benfica to the sword with a sublime solo effort to bring his tally in the competition to six.
Now he's picked up the baton in the Champions League, bagging a brace to help Chelsea reverse their fortunes in Group E and top the table having suffered a surprise defeat to Basel on Matchday 1.
His performance against Schalke on Tuesday was classic centre-forward play. He opened the scores with just five minutes played after an intelligent run in the box to nod home Frank Lampard's corner at the far post, while he rounded Schalke's Timo Hildebrand in goal to double his tally.
It could have been more too, when he rattled the cross bar from a header in the second half. Although his most impressive moment came when Eden Hazard made sure of the result, making it 3-0 on 87 minutes
With Chelsea on another counter-attack, Torres was probably hoping Hazard would pass to him so he could complete his hat-trick, sprinting the best part of 50 yards to pull Schalke's solitary defender out of position.
In so doing, it gifted Hazard even more space, which he exploited by driving a shot low and hard into the corner to complete an excellent move. It was a good finish, but Torres' movement was all the more satisfying, showing a player who is back on form.
4 - Fernando Torres has now scored four goals in his last five Champions League appearances for Chelsea. Continental.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 22, 2013
That his return to prominence has come in Europe shouldn't be a surprise given what we have witnessed in the past 12 months. If it continues, the possibilities are endless for this Chelsea team who will look for their striker to score more goals as the season develops.
When asked after the game if Torres was feeling his sharpest, the Spaniard told Sky Sports in his TV interview: "I think as a team we are feeling much better, that we are improving as a team. The last few games I am feeling the same way."
For Chelsea's Champions League hopes at least, Mourinho must be hoping his Spanish striker will be riding that feeling through to May.
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