Genk rout gives Torres timely boost
When Fernando Torres runs out for Chelsea, it is still difficult to skirt his presence. Fresh angles can be sought in the form of new faces like Oriol Romeu and Raul Meireles but, at a club like Chelsea, the money still talks. Torres, at that exorbitant price, is always a main point of discussion. To move the story on from himself, his mission is simple. He must score goals, and make those goals part of the Chelsea furniture, a Stamford Bridge staple as regular as a John Terry fist-pump, a playing of Harry J Allstars' 'Liquidator' or the waving of a stick of celery.
Previously, just when his Chelsea career had looked capable of being rescued, the inexplicable struck. Having scored two goals of the type he once trademarked, he debited their value through comedic mistakes: an Old Trafford skew one week was followed the next by a lunge of the type that used to be known as a 'forward's tackle' but is now illegal. Torres' previous indifference means he is yet to be granted football's version of absence making the heart grow fonder, whereby a missing player's importance becomes ever more exaggerated. There is still so much more to be proved but a redemptive road is being negotiated.
That rush of blood against Swansea City and a resultant three-game domestic ban has reduced his October to a watching brief, save for international duty and the visit of KRC Genk, Belgian champions and Bridge whipping boys. Weak though they may have been, they provided a fillip to the growing sense that Torres' powers are beginning to return. An early striking of the post when he had just Genk keeper Laszlo Koteles to beat did not serve to shatter a brittle confidence. His head stayed up, with positivity pronounced, and soon the moment arrived to score a first Champions League goal for Chelsea.
Launching off the shoulder of the last defender, a shot was fired past Koteles in a style once so familiar in a Liverpool shirt. Raucous plaudits accepted, and chest now puffed with pride, he was soon able to feel sufficient assurance to offer condolences to Frank Lampard for a failed flick, and then Florent Malouda for a near miss set up by his own destructive run into the heart of the Belgians' defence.
A header from an Nicolas Anelka cross soon brought another goal and a jumping celebration of relief and further belief. The Stamford Bridge-ites who have willed him on in hope rather than expectation could enjoy his moment. Roman Abramovich must have been grinning from ear to ear, though then again, he always is, and perhaps even during his current legal wrangle at London's High Court.
Successful feints and flicks are the preserve of a player imbued with a settled football brain, and Torres delivered incisive linkage throughout. His team-mates enjoyed playing with him too. Genk were simply blown away by a Chelsea team that may have lacked the surges of Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge but created four goals in 40 minutes all stamped with a mark of quality.
Meireles' opening strike was a long-range finish of Frank Lampard-esque precision, while Branislav Ivanovic's header took the game into the realms of rout after just 40 minutes. With the Champions League group stage being negotiated with an ease that their English counterparts cannot match, grounds for optimism about the new Chelsea are swelling. So long described as a group of old soldiers approaching their last stand, this is now a team bursting with youthful vigour and fresh ideas.
Casualties and a resetting of certain expectations are likely to result. Reputations can be respected but not bowed to, with past glories placed in the history books. Chelsea fans have begun to fear for Didier Drogba, for seven years their standard bearer in attack. Age, injury and the arrival of Torres are at the root of that.
Andre Villas-Boas has already staked his reputation on an approach to the old guard that has let them know that he makes the decisions, and they do not, as previous incumbents often allowed them to do. John Terry was again a non-participant in this competition, while Frank Lampard looks rejuvenated by the challenge of fighting for his place.
Torres, however, is a player the Portuguese manager needs to make work. Any team would desire a striker of such strength, pace, aerial presence and the ability to link play with a breaking midfield. Fernando Torres always was that player. He just needed to find it within himself. It may just have been located.
His manager believes that any previous malaise was "not a question of form", an interpretation perhaps open to dictionary definition, but his next statement about Torres supplied a telling truth. "It is important for players to feel confident," Villas-Boas said, "and he has been feeling confident."
If confidence was all that was required to make Torres the force he once was, and can be, then Chelsea must continue to plump up his ego and sense of self-worth. Juan Mata already looks a force. Raul Meireles is clearly an adaptable force of consistency. Oriol Romeu's possession play shows the benefits of a Barcelona education. These are all clear signs of a squad heading for a trophy-delivering rejuvenation. Yet it is Torres who provides the key to the success of a new Chelsea.