Fernando Torres makes the most of City’s late slip
Mix up at the back allows Chelsea striker secure victory at Stamford Bridge
Fernando Torres scores Chelsea’s late winner against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1: It was around six seconds from the 90 minute-mark here, the fourth official preparing to hoist his board for added time, when Fernando Torres confirmed his revival by burying Manchester City’s prospects in south-west London.
A pinball in central midfield ended with Willian punting down-field over a back-tracking Matija Nastasic, the centre half panicking and nodding back and over an on-rushing Joe Hart. There was Torres, sprinting beyond the visitors’ confused last line of defence and away from Martín Demichelis, to convert into the gaping net. A man who has endured plenty of wretched luck in front of goal had his good fortune at last.
This was a first Premier League goal of the season, and only a second of the calendar year, with its timing deflating their fellow challengers for the title at the last – sending out a thunderous message to the division.
José Mourinho’s celebrations suggested as much, the Portuguese charging manically past the away team’s dugout and climbing steps to celebrate with supporters. This was the second week in succession he has ended up in the crowd following last weekend’s dismissal to the stands but this was less about him. Torres has rarely departed this arena with the crowd bellowing his name so vociferously.
This was his contest, even if Sergio Agüero’s own brilliance for the visitors had threatened to eclipse him until that late intervention. The striker maintained that fine form from Schalke in midweek. Indeed, the hosts’ half-time lead had owed everything to Torres’s revival.
Chelsea had started brightly then faded as City, all power through the centre and trickery on the flanks, seemed to take a grip of the contest, driving the Londoners back into massed defence. For a while the visitors had swarmed all over the home side, David Silva and Agüero scuttling into dangerous territory, but their energy did not yield clear sights at goal and Chelsea, as they had proved in Gelsenkirchen in midweek, are happiest springing on the break.
In that tactic, Torres’s contribution was key. The Spaniard should have registered his second Premier League goal of the calendar year on the half-hour mark, Ramires’s burst and angled centre collected by the striker alone near the penalty spot with time to consider his shot. The result was rather panicked, a ballooned effort high and wide that had Mourinho puffing his cheeks in disbelief on the bench.
Yet, moments later, it was the 29-year-old’s burst away from Gael Clichy, the full back left gasping in his vapour trail, to the by-line and skimmed cross that presented André Schürrle, ignored by Demichelis on his debut, with a tap-in for a first Chelsea goal.
That was Torres’s 13th league assist for the club, a fine tally and evidence that his all-round game, if not always his shooting, is on song. Within minutes he had gathered on the opposite side of the pitch and cut into the box before curling a delicious shot on to the far angle of bar and post. His manager’s reaction was more pleading this time, a pained expression across his face as he slumped over the wall at the front of the dugout struggling to come to terms that his striker’s luck was still out.
That period had suggested City were creaking, the memories of defeats at Aston Villa and Cardiff this term perhaps playing on their minds as they played catch-up against a fellow contender. Yet their response was a show of strength. Theirs was an urgency from the restart, stampeding forward and wresting back both control and parity. Samir Nasri’s slipped pass sent Agüero into space at Gary Cahill’s back, albeit at a tight angle from goal. The blistering finish, thumped high beyond Petr Cech at his near post, fuelled the visitors’ conviction.
City have never lost a Premier League game when their Argentine has registered and they should have tightened their grip thereafter. Silva was guilty of overelaborating, Javi Garcia of a tame header down from the Spaniard’s free-kick, with Agüero looping another shot from distance marginally wide.
Chelsea, having reorganised and taken stock, threatened on the break when Eden Hazard tumbling in the area under Pablo Zabaleta’s challenge and Ramires, a blur of energy throughout, thrashing over from distance.
When Willian’s vicious free-kick veered just away from Branislav Ivanovic, City must have thought their point was preserved. Then came Nastasic’s rush of blood and Torres’s moment of glory: this time, the Spaniard really does feel back to his best.