Torres takes centre stage at new Chelsea
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE: Chelsea 2 Newcastle Utd 0:THE LOSS of a formidable player may just have strengthened Chelsea. Didier Drogba sometimes looked as though he was overshadowing team-mates as much as opponents.
With the Ivorian gone to Shanghai Shenhua there is a different tone to the side. The memories of the forward will still be treasured, particularly because he secured the Champions League trophy with his last touch of the ball for Chelsea by converting the decisive penalty against Bayern Munich in the shoot-out.
Even so, the presence exuded by Drogba could seem to intimidate those around him. Fernando Torres sometimes looked cowed and did not take the field against Bayern until the 84th minute. “I spoke to Fernando on the plane coming back from Munich,” the Chelsea manager, Roberto Di Matteo, said, “and told him I thought he was part of the future of this club.
“Understandably there’s frustration when you don’t start such a big game but ultimately we had a big success. Everybody was involved in that success, not just the ones who started the final. I was always very happy with Fernando.
“Towards the back end of last season he was fantastic. Maybe not scoring but being a provider and even when that doesn’t happen he works very hard. He’s a great team player.”
Torres had impact and influence against Newcastle United on Saturday. Indeed there was a certain style to Chelsea. It may have helped that Alan Pardew’s team were drained as they returned to action less than 48 hours after the Europa League qualifier away to the Greek club Atromitos. Only two members of the line-up, Vurnon Anita and Papiss Cisse, started both fixtures but it would still have felt like a hectic and debilitating few days.
Worse still, Newcastle were taking on an invigorated Chelsea. The attacking Eden Hazard, who cost €40 million from Lille, does not resemble Gianfranco Zola but if this contest is any guide he, too, may scare opponents with his imagination and technique.
Although it is much too early to tell whether the Belgian can sustain the impact as opponents devote ever more attention to him, his sheer ability surely cannot be suppressed entirely.
Various factors contributed to the impression of a new Chelsea that will enhance the style. On other days, John Terry, would have been missed. He has a neck injury and will also be absent from Friday’s Uefa Super Cup match with Atletico Madrid in Monaco through suspension. Chelsea were not presented with much of a test by Newcastle, whose firepower in attack seldom registered despite the commendable efforts of Hatem Ben Arfa.
The menace of Di Matteo’s men was always apparent.
“It’s really hard to replace someone like Drogba,” said goalkeeper Petr Cech. “But we’ve got really talented players here and Fernando is scoring goals, which is another great thing. We also have Mata playing well, Lampard as well and they have all found a quick understanding in the midfield.
“Hazard can make a difference on his own and sometimes that’s a key factor in a tight game. He takes people on and creates situations and openings. The first goal was the key. It helped us. Last season, they scored an early goal [in a 2-0 win], sat back and then tried to pick us off. It was completely different today.”
Chelsea’s opening goal was the catalyst. Torres left Davide Santon in his wake and was brought down by Vurnon Anita, with Hazard converting the penalty with assurance. The victory was, in effect, clinched with a more spectacular effort. Following a smart back-heel from Hazard, Torres sent an instinctive drive soaring beyond the left hand of the goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Many a side will flounder at Chelsea. That will be thin consolation for Newcastle but they still merit praise. The signings Pardew has made at modest cost are still to be acclaimed but it was clear at Stamford Bridge that great outlay tends to make a difference.
“We are realistic about where we think we are,” Pardew said. “I think we are in that group with Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool. But whether we can reach the dizzy heights of Man City, Man United, Chelsea . . . where they are now . . . it’s going to be tough. But you’ve got to believe you can.
“The only time I hear the word ‘expectations’ from Newcastle fans is from journalists from the Midlands and London. But up north, they know. We will continue hopefully to excel this year and get a top-eight finish. Top five would be a great achievement.”
Chelsea showed on Saturday their loftier ambitions are also appropriate.