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Apr 23, 2011

Torres breaks duck in mudbath

One brief and hugely successful Chelsea era may be set to come to an end in the next few weeks, yet the next may just have started at a rain-soaked Stamford Bridge as Fernando Torres finally broke free from his shackles.

Chelsea 3-0 West Ham
• Torres relieved after ending drought

The conventional wisdom suggests that Carlo Ancelotti's future as Chelsea boss is a lot less secure than that of the striker owner Roman Abramovich spent £50 million to acquire back in January, but this glimpse into the future suggested the manager and player who struggled to strike up an understanding in recent weeks could be a successful double act after all.

In truth, Ancelotti had probably run out of patience as he waited for the Torres of old to return from hibernation, with the perceived pressure he has come under from his paymasters to pick the misfiring front man ignored by a manager who has resorted to picking his team for sporting reasons.

However, Ancelotti, Abramovich and all Chelsea followers can now dare to believe they have cracked the crusty outer shell that has held Torres captive since his record-breaking move to London, with late goal sparking the sort of celebrations you would normally associate with a winning strike in a cup final.

The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge can rarely be described as raucous on the best of days and, as the familiar collection of under-tens and holiday makers sat silently through the first 83 minutes of this game, the West Ham supporters revelled in goading rival supporters who were clearly bemused by their side's less than impressive display.

That was before Torres scored his goal and, as every Chelsea player rushed to jump on top of the striker who has become something of a football laughing stock in recent weeks, the previously muted audience leapt to their feet en masse to toast one of those 'I was there' moments.

"We are so delighted to Fernando and hopefully now he will feel like he has a new life," a smiling Ancelotti said. "Everyone waited a long time for Fernando to score and finally he has done it. He worked hard for this goal and he maintained his confidence and composure and hopefully this is the start of a big future for him at this club.

"Fernando has not found it easy to quickly strike up a relationship with his new team-mates and hopefully now this bad moment is gone for him. It was a great moment and hopefully his future here now can be fantastic. Now we look forward to taking advantage of what he can bring to this team.

"It was a good goal. Excellent movement, a good pass and a great finish. Considering the performance of Drogba in this game and the way Torres played at the end, it would be nice to think we could put both of them together for the next game against Tottenham. They are both great players and they can work together."

It was not just the Torres goal that suggested he is rediscovering his appetite as his 14-minute contribution to this game was far more useful than any he has offered up during his previous 13 appearance in the blue shirt. Looking energised and inspired after he replaced Drogba, this looked somewhere close to the Torres of old.

Chasing down lost causes in a bid to win the ball back and apparently recapturing the burst of pace that has been lacking in his game in recent months, not even the sodden surface he splashed onto could dampen his enthusiasm to become a Chelsea hero at last, as his goal gave a glimpse of the class waiting to burst out.

Rarely has a top-class sportsman lost confidence on the scale Torres has managed in the last few months, but there is no denying the striker who was once feared around the world had hit rock-bottom after his torturous start at Chelsea. As he read the bounce of a ball that stuck in the standing water inside the West Ham box, though, his swivel and finish brought an outpouring of relief.

With Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda adding nails into the increasingly doomed West Ham coffin, this was described by Chelsea boss Ancelotti as "a perfect day", though the truth must be that this was the afternoon when his side's defence of the Premier League title ground to a halt.

Manchester United's victory against Everton earlier in the day leaves the title favourites a little too far out of reach for Chelsea to mount a realistic title charge in the final month of the season and, on the evidence of this rusty performance, Ancelotti's men are far from certain to win every game between now and end of the campaign.

West Ham had more than enough chances in this game to collect a valuable point at the very least and, were it not for a howling miss from substitute Robbie Keane, the late moment of glory for Torres may never have arrived and that may be why Hammers boss Avram Grant seemed a little more upbeat than is the norm.

"When you hear 3-0, it does not sound as if we did very well, but the facts are a little different," the ex-Chelsea boss said. "We had the best chances in the game, Petr Cech had a very good day and the chance for Robbie Keane could have changed the game in our favour. However, we didn't score and we were punished in the end. I still believe we can stay up and we can take a lot of positives from this game."

It remains to be seen whether there can be future featuring the combined talents of Ancelotti and Torres, yet Abramovich would be wise to consider the prospect as Chelsea make progress towards a second-place finish after their troubled season.

As the drenched crowd chanted Torres' name as he left the field with a grin on his face at last, the man at the very top of this club should appreciate that evolution and not revolution is required to get Chelsea back to winning ways.

This dignified Italian manager, who brought Abramovich a Premier League and FA Cup double less than a year ago, is the perfect man to implement the tweaks that need to be applied to an aging squad, yet it still seems as if Torres will influence Chelsea's future far more than Ancelotti.

LESSON LEARNED: The last time John Terry and Wayne Bridge came face to face, the latter's failure to shake hands with the former at a time when the duo were embroiled in a tabloid newspaper storm surrounding their private lives was front-page news.

This time, it was Terry who didn't bother to offer his hand in friendship to Bridge, as he knew it would not be received with good grace.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Freddie Sears. The diminutive West Ham forward gave the highly experienced Ashley Cole a torrid afternoon and he was unfortunate to end up on the losing side.

WEST HAM VERDICT: While they need to find a way of keeping goals out, the concern must be that strikers such as Carlton Cole and Robbie Keane are liable to miss the scoring chances that could give this club survival salvation. With just four games left to play, these are worrying times for Hammers fans.

CHELSEA VERDICT: An indifferent performance could be excused on a surface that became treacherous to play constructive football on, but this is a day that will forever belong to Torres. You suspect we may not have to wait as long for his second Chelsea goal as we did for his first.

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