More torment for Torres as Swans soar
If the Ballon d'Or revealed anything, it is that to be regarded as the best by football's fraternity, you must play in Spain. Those at Chelsea and Swansea City clearly agree. Seven Spaniards began as compared to five British, but where Swansea's Hispanic influence thrived and is in touching distance of Wembley, this was another night to forget for Chelsea's cursed Spanish axis of Fernando Torres and Rafa Benitez.
If Roman Abramovich was watching on his extended winter holiday, his yearning for yet another Spaniard in Pep Guardiola can only have deepened.
The return leg in the Costa Del Glamorgan already has the look of a last stand for Stamford Bridge's least popular Spaniard. Benitez came to Chelsea accepting the equation of trophies in return for abuse. It is not working out in his favour. The Club World Cup was lost, the Premier League looks out of reach and the League Cup no longer looks a bye to glory.
Benitez, who was facing down calls of Roberto Di Matteo's name by the end, may soon have a rival in ire. "Take Torres with ya!" bellowed one angry Blue at Benitez as he made his way down the tunnel. Patience is running very thin. Just like last week's humiliating QPR defeat, Chelsea never got going, and Swansea seized gleefully on twinned mistakes from Branislav Ivanovic to leave the nation salivating at the prospect of a Swansea v Bradford City final. It is the type of fixture that used to grace the Sherpa Vans Trophy.
Michael Laudrup's Swansea played in the manner of a mid-ranking Spanish Primera Liga team on a Europa League away day; the Dane learned his art in Spain, having sat at the feet of Johan Cruyff at Barcelona. The Swans were a combination of careful passing and direct attacking when the need arose, with quality finishing too.
Swansea's style of play must have been familiar to Torres. With a two-year anniversary of crashing underachievement fast approaching, he has another striker to compete with. Demba Ba may not possess the pedigree of Didier Drogba, but he still has a far better scoring rate than Torres. At the weekend, he eased into his Chelsea career with a brace at Southampton, a haul of Chelsea goals that took Torres months to equal. His ten-minute cameo saw him wrongly booked for a dive, and having a goal chalked off for a highly marginal offside. He offered the threat his far more expensive colleague almost never has as a Chelsea player.
The false economies of football were further revealed when Swansea's Michu scored the type of goal that Torres has long forgotten how to execute. Michu cost - at £2 million - just 4% of Torres' pricetag. His goal record and growing reputation serve as mockery of his compatriot. "What he's doing in sense of goals is incredible," Laudrup said of Michu. "He has one chance, one goal. That's a top class centre forward."
Michu's yo-yo career, between La Liga's lesser lights, contrasts with the princely beginnings of Torres at Atletico Madrid. When Torres was scoring the goals at Liverpool that had Abramovich reaching for his gold-plated chequebook, Michu was struggling in the Segunda with Celta Vigo.
"He scores when he wants" is the Swans' song for Michu. Chelsea fans have never amended the same ditty for Torres. He has not done enough to move any Blue-hearted wordsmith to song. Worryingly for Torres, Ba is already being regaled. "We want Demba Ba," began an angry faction, after a poor Torres cross had evaded everybody. It soon became a hit on heavy rotation.
Michu's goal was scored with the clipped control of a regular scorer. He curved the ball around Ross Turnbull with a confidence repeated later with an acrobatic effort from a Wayne Routledge cross.
Torres looked vaguely threatening only twice. The first time he wafted a ball over the bar when advancing to the edge of Swansea's 18-yard area. The second saw him advancing on goal from left-hand side, ready to open up his right and strike across Gerhard Tremmel in the style he made his own at Liverpool. Unfortunately, he was doing so from an offside position, and by some distance too.
Frank Lampard's shuttle runs down the sidelines drew the warmest applause from the home faithful. The benched and departing Chelsea legend was hardly milking it but clearly knew he was at the centre of attention. He was even to be found smiling as the Swansea supporters joined in the fun too. By far the loudest cheer of the night from home fans sounded when Lampard eventually came on.
Its volume was almost matched by the cheers that greeted Ba's eventual arrival. It was Torres he replaced, and there were distinct murmurings of disapproval as the No. 9 departed. The boos sounded only from mischievous Swans but the worm of opinion is most definitely turning.
Instead, it was his manager who was targeted. Benitez, fidgety all night, and often engaged in testy chat with the fourth official as his team misfired, looked to the skies as Ivanovic made his second mistake and Danny Graham converted with the same cool he had shown against Arsenal. The unwelcome house guest sat even more uncomfortably on a night when, save for John Terry and Petr Cech, he had fielded his strongest team.
"The team was doing really well," Benitez said in a summary where familiarity is only likely to bring contempt. "There were a lot of chances. We made two mistakes and we paid for them. The team was attacking and creating chances.
"We made two mistakes and conceded two goals. It's something in football that can happen," he continued. He spoke of 23 chances created, where Laudrup counted just three of any quality.
"If we play this game ten times, we will win nine of them," Benitez said. His analysis was as unconvincing as his team had been. He may not be a Spaniard in the works for much longer.