Schurrle Lays Down a Marker, but Was Cardiff Win Torres' Chelsea Swansong?

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Schurrle Lays Down a Marker, but Was Cardiff Win Torres' Chelsea Swansong?
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Without much else other than pride to play for, Chelsea's visit to relegated Cardiff City on the final day of this Premier League season was always going to be about planning for next season.

It's what we got.

Youth team midfielder John Swift made his Blues debut as a late substitute in Chelsea's 2-1 win, while the highly regarded Nathan Ake also featured from the bench.

It would have been a highlight for the youngsters, but their brief cameos were overshadowed by a fellow substitute—Andre Schurrle.

The German's debut campaign in English football has been one of peaks and troughs. There have been moments of brilliance and others where he hasn't quite looked worthy of his £18 million price tag.

Gradually, though, the 23-year-old is showing his true value, and Sunday was a timely reminder for what he offers this Chelsea team.

Replacing John Obi Mikel with 25 minutes remaining, Schurrle didn't have that much time to make an impression, yet he left the pitch on the referee's final whistle probably the game's most satisfied player.

Having dominated from the off, Chelsea had somehow found themselves behind to the Bluebirds after Craig Bellamy's deflected effort on 14 minutes.

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With Eden Hazard and Oscar not exactly offering too much inspiration, it called for Schurrle to change the game, and he did so in emphatic style, scoring the goal that leveled the scores before assisting Fernando Torres for the winner.

Schurrle's introduction gave Chelsea some much-needed energy, transforming their performance from one of frustration to one that gives their fans something to look forward to over the summer.

Too many times Jose Mourinho's side has failed to kill off their opponents throughout the season—recent defeats to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland proving a bane of annoyance for their manager as he witnessed Chelsea's title challenge fade.

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Last weekend's goalless draw with Norwich City only added to their woes, but the final 15 minutes against Cardiff were different.

Chelsea needed to find a way through and eventually they did.

Mourinho will take encouragement from the desire of his players to win this game, and none showed that more than Schurrle, who has surely given his manager food for thought as he considers the changes he will make over the summer.

From a season of transition, Chelsea need to make the step from also-rans to champions next term.

The excuses we have heard this year will not be enough to guard Chelsea from criticism in 2015. Mourinho knows Premier League success is the minimum requirement, and if they are to achieve that, the likes of Schurrle are going to be vital.

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In many ways, the German is a fine example for where this team is at right now. After an up-and-down season, they are showing promise to achieve something special, of which Schurrle will be a big part of.

A man who might not be is Fernando Torres.

The Spaniard scored Chelsea's winning goal against Cardiff, but his refusal to celebrate has sparked conversation that goal may well be his last in Chelsea colors.

Mourinho seemed to suggest otherwise in his post-match press conference, yet it's difficult to see it otherwise given the changes he is determined to make over the summer.

"I think [Torres] will be at Chelsea...I don't know, the summer is a long summer," he said. "I said to my assistants I can't believe I have to wait three months for my next competitive game; that's three months without a real match.

"Samuel Eto'o finished his contract with the club, so the normal situation is that he's leaving. We want to bring in a striker, but Fernando and Demba [Ba] have contracts and I'm happy with that. It's no problem for me if they stay at the club as long as they are happy."

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Torres' future has long been the subject of speculation, but the stats speak for themselves.

Mourinho is demanding the Blues have a striker capable of scoring 25 goals a season to lead their line and Torres finished the Premier League campaign with just five.

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For £50 million, the Blues expected much, much more.

Had they been spoiled with any of the strikers from Manchester City or Liverpool, we may be talking of Chelsea as champions. Instead, they finished third, a fact that will frustrate given they completed the double over their title rivals.

It was the games against so-called lesser teams that saw them finish off the pace—games they should have won but lacked that killer instinct that makes all the difference.

After three-and-a-half years, Torres hasn't provided that. It's unlikely he will be given another chance to, either.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes

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