Critics still to be convinced as Torres struggles to put his best foot forward
Chelsea v Manchester Utd:Tomorrow is another big test for the Spaniard as he seeks his best form for Chelsea, writes DAVID HYTNER
FERNANDO TORRES’S Chelsea career is the pub debate that never stops. The critics always believe that they boast the loudest and decisive word when they highlight his scoring record since the €62 million transfer from Liverpool: 18 goals in 81 appearances, which includes the one against Manchester City in the Community Shield in August. Should that count? Even that was up for question at Roberto Di Matteo’s briefing for tomorrow’s showdown with Manchester United.
The anti-Torres argument is simplistic and it fails to acknowledge the work that he does in other areas for the team.
Everyone at Chelsea stresses the point, from the directors to the players. Doubtless the big man says it too, although no one can be entirely sure what Roman Abramovich thinks.
Suffice to say that the owner made it a personal mission to prise Torres from Liverpool and, this season, having removed other strikers from the payroll, he wants to love Torres’s efforts more than ever.
Torres says he has become a better player at Chelsea, learning to “play more outside the box, associating more with my team-mates”. He makes assists. He feels he can “mix it more”. His supporters will urge you to look at his all-round game. At times this season it has been eye-catching.
The Chelsea diehards have stuck with him because they see the intensity of his work rate and the flickers of the player that he was at Liverpool and before that at Atletico Madrid.
Perhaps they enjoy the feeling of closing ranks around one of their own in the face of hostility.
The yearning for him to roll back the years is deep and it should be noted that it is pronounced among the neutrals as well. There have been few finer sights in the Premier League years than Torres, in Liverpool colours, switching on the afterburners and finishing with ruthless cool.
The trouble for Torres these days is the sense that he is rarely more than a couple of patchy performances from scrutiny or crisis. The weight of recent history does not help. When a striker goes five months and 25 games without a goal, as Torres did for Chelsea last season, his overall club numbers may never recover. Nor may his confidence.
Torres’s performance in Chelsea’s 2-1 Champions League defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday was some way short of patchy; there was a spell early in the second half when his touch and decision-making broke down completely and it is at those moments when even his most passionate defenders shift uncomfortably and it becomes easy to question his state of mind.
In the previous game, the 4-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur, Torres had played well but there was still a move when he wriggled through and, to general shock, looked to pass instead of shoot.
The amateur psychologist enjoys himself with Torres. When forced to rely on instinct the player has shown wonderful flashes this season, especially in the league against Newcastle United and Arsenal, when he scored crucial goals. Yet the suspicion remains that he can over-think scoring situations.
“Strikers are instinctive and it’s difficult to understand what goes through their mind when they are in a position,” said Di Matteo said. “I’ve never been a striker so I wouldn’t be able to know but they have that instinct. Fernando has always had that and still has it.”