Green shoots of recovery for Torres
Soccer:Fernando Torres’ rare interview in Chelsea’s matchday programme could hardly have been more prophetic as the striker came within inches of ending his latest goal drought in their 1-0 win over Sunderland. Frank Lampard will go down in the history books as the Blues’ matchwinner but even he admitted his goal owed everything to Torres.
The striker showed the kind of confidence that has been sorely lacking since his €55 million move from Liverpool, unleashing a sensational scissor kick that smashed against the underside of the crossbar, careered off the knee of Lampard and into the net.
It was yet another assist — albeit an unwitting one — for Torres, who has now gone almost four months since scoring but who looked closer than ever to doing so in what was arguably his best Chelsea performance at Stamford Bridge. He seemed to know what was coming beforehand, saying: “I’m hoping now I can find my best form again.
“It’s been a different style here for me to adapt to and I’ve been giving assists for my team-mates, which has helped us towards winning games. But obviously, as a striker, I’m always trying to score and I always want to score.
“That’s what I want to do for Chelsea and, hopefully, I’ll start doing it this year.”
Indeed, Torres appears to have drawn a line under his nightmare 2011 as he begins 2012 knowing Didier Drogba’s absence at the African Nations Cup would give him the run in the side he needs.
“It seems like a lot longer than one year since I arrived here,” he added. “It’s been a very hard year, with lots of change at the club and in both my personal and professional life, but I have felt welcome here from the beginning and I feel even more settled now.
“The reception from everyone at the club, including the fans, has been unbelievable.”
That also seemed to pre-empt what was to come, with the backing of the Stamford Bridge crowd — which has always stood by Torres — reaching new heights yesterday.
“Torres, Torres, Torres,” they chanted every time he beat a man or fired a shot goalward, while they were incensed when he saw two penalty appeals rejected, the second seeing him booked for diving when a foul appeared to have been committed.
Chelsea supporters were similarly effusive about the surprise return of midfielder Michael Essien, who came off the bench to make his first appearance of the season following knee surgery.
All that in front of the watching Gary Cahill, whose move from Bolton was due to be wrapped up today, and who will fancy his chances of improving a defence that once again looked far from secure.
“You always want your team to be more in control,” admitted manager Andre Villas-Boas after watching Sunderland squander several chances — including an open goal — to snatch an equaliser and see a strong penalty shout of their own rejected.
The open goal chance fell to 22-year-old James McClean, who responded to being given his big break by new manager Martin O’Neill with two goals in his previous two appearances.
“He’s still learning the game and sometimes he just wants to do things a wee bit too quickly,” O’Neill said of his fellow Derry man, who joined in the summer from Derry City. “I thought he was excellent for us in the second half.”