Something in the air as Fernando shines bright at the Bridge
Crucial late winner extends Chelsea’s 100 per cent home start to the season
Fernando Torres of Chelsea celebrates scoring their second goal at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Getty
This is – perhaps, you never know – exactly how José Mourinho said things might turn out in his most fevered whispers into the ear of Fernando Torres, a centre-forward he inherited a little ungraciously in his second spell at Chelsea, like a chipped Wedgwood gravy boat from a spendthrift aunt, but who has since been the subject of a concerted Mourinho reconditioning project.
Torres’s winning goal in the last minute of this densely fought Premier League match was a compellingly direct, even rather Didier Drogba-like intervention. Combined with Torres’s first-half ragging of Gael Clichy in a 10-minute spell during which he seemed briefly to have been replaced by a ravenous robot double, this was confirmation of a player not so much back to his best – that Torres has now decisively passed – as experiencing a moment of cautiously hopeful personal reinvention.
In part the winning goal was created by a fortunate confluence of errors, starting with John Terry’s failed hoof downfield and ushered along by Joe Hart’s wild dash off his line as the ball held up in the gusting wind. But it was also testimony both to Torres’s energy levels and a new-found sense of untempered directness as he flustered Matija Nastasic into heading back past Hart and then sprinted on to slide the ball into the empty net as Chelsea’s entire bench erupted, leaping up in a concerted charge like a mini-frontier of startled antelope.
It was Torres’s fifth goal in 10 matches in a season that has, to date, been more notable for a textural transformation.
“We need his physicality there. The people that play behind him are little fragile,” Mourinho said afterwards, and it is this additional physicality that marks out “New Fighting Fernando”, not so much a Torres as a toro.
Mourinho has always had a thing for the forward-bullock, the player who can drive a pair of centre-backs towards their own goal, carry the ball forwards and generally test both the mobility and muscle of an opposition’s spine, so much so that at Real Madrid he helped transform Cristiano Ronaldo into a kind of sui generis high-grade central battering ram.
Mourinho has done what he can at his Lukaku-less Chelsea, producing out of the occasionally hangdog Late Torres a cautiously encouraging vision of Fernando 2.0. It is in part a physical transformation. Torres was encouraged to bulk up under Rafael Benitez, who noticed his diminished muscle mass from his Liverpool days. Under Mourinho he looks more toned, more lithe, less curvaceous in vital areas – and simply more aggressive too.
Here his best spell was sparked by a horrendous moment just before the half hour: Ramires crossed from the right. Torres had time to take the ball down inside the box. He opted instead to shin it wildly over the bar, before trooping back towards halfway, that small cropped head crumpled down towards his chest.
Not so fast, though. It seemed nothing much was on when Torres picked the ball up on the halfway line with an entire defence and defensive midfield between him and the City goal.
Three seconds and eight touches later the ball was in the net. Not only did Torres successfully outsprint the previously un-outsprintable Clichy with the ball at his feet, he had the cuteness to look up and find Andre Schurrle with an insidious little pass across the six-yard box.
It was not so much an assist as two assists in one from a man briefly operating within his own personalised hyperspace. Moments later he picked the ball up inside City’s half, turned inside and produced a sublime dipping shot from left to right that hit the bar with Hart offering no more than an air-bound consolation grope.
It is, of course, worth keeping these things in perspective. For all his decisive impact on this match. Torres’s winning goal here was still just his second in the Premier League since December 23rd last year. By contrast Sergio Aguero, who scored a sublime equaliser two minutes into the second half, has nine in eight games, the past five all away from home and overall has 56 goals in 77 starts for City. For a man who doesn’t really score tap-ins, that’s a lot of inspiration.
Both players – for reasons that remain unclear – have their names tattooed in Elvish on their forearms, but the similarities pretty much end there.
Aguero, by contrast, is a pure luxury-good of a striker, free from rough edges and thrummingly high spec. His shot for the goal was hit with the bony part of the outside of his right foot, and struck to sweetly it whistled flat and straight past Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Cech, who flapped at empty air.
With 18 minutes remaining he picked the ball up 40 yards from goal and didn’t so much skip past Terry as briefly render him invisible with a sideways glide. Terry scrabbled back after Aguero like a man in tearful doomed pursuit of the last night bus. No disgrace there: Aguero in this mood can, in flashes, do pretty much anything he likes.
Torres has often made things look much harder in recent years, a salvage centre-forward who has been reclaimed and refurbished by successive Chelsea managers, but here had the will at the last to make the difference.