Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fernandon't Scorres.

Chelsea signed Fernando Torres for a club record of £50 million from Liverpool on 31st January with the weight of the world on his skinny shoulders. By the time Chelsea signed him, the title race was realistically only between Manchester United and Arsenal, but for the price that Abramovich shelled out for him as well as his preceding reputation, it was only natural that Chelsea fans – and all football fans, for that matter – expected at least some goals from him, if not immediately, then at least imminently. However, if (500) Days of Summer taught Miss Bung anything, then it’s that the expectation and the reality are very rarely the same. And what happened in that film -- Joseph G-L expecting to find a loving Zooey Deschanel in his arms when he really found her kissing another man, is not a bad analogy for Fernando Torres' failed love affair with Chelseabung. Carlo Ancelotti, for his part, tried everything he could to get Torres to score. He played Torres with Kalou. He played Torres with Drogba. He played Torres with Anelka. He played Torres with Drogba and Anelka. But, for all the want in the world, Fernando Torres still hasn't hit the net. Chelsea fans are impatient, Carlo Ancelotti is worried, Roman Abramovich just smiles that silent steely smile that is impossible to read but can so easy signal difficulty. And still, Fernando Torres has scored the same amount of goals for Chelsea as David Cameron, Olalla Torres (his wife), even the frogs in my garden. On the back of a soul-shattering defeat to Manchester United last night that knocks Chelsea out of the CL and effectively ends our awful season, I thought I’d take a look at Torres’ contributions in the games since he's joined Chelsea. After all, didn’t Miley Cyrus say, it’s all about the climb? Giggity.

Chelsea vs Liverpool, 6th February (Chelsea lose 1-0)
The football gods would just so have it that the first game Torres was available to play for Chelsea was that against his old club, of whom he’d gone from beloved son to reviled Judas. Football fans all over the world were rubbing their hands together at the anticipation of Torres scoring against the club that nurtured him into one of the world’s superstars, if only to see how he would celebrate after he scored. They needn’t have worried; Torres was off-form, as were most of the Chelsea team and a Liverpool side with a point to prove could easily have scored more than the one they did; a shot from Meireles. Following their spirited 4-2 win in the mid-week against Sunderland (which Torres was ineligible to play in) in which Nicolas Anelka had been deployed more as a midfielder than his natural forward role and absolutely thrived, giving one of his finest performances in a Chelsea shirt, Carlo Ancelotti attempted a three-man attack with Anelka, Torres and Didier Drogba upfront, but it was an experiment that failed miserably. The sad truth is that, had Ancelotti played just Anelka and Drogba in a straightforward 4-4-2, Chelsea had the quality to defeat Liverpool that day. But, with Roman Abramovich in the audience watching his new buy, that simply wasn’t an option for the Italian. Poor tactics, a miserable Chelsea performance and a good Liverpool team meant that Chelsea suffered their second home loss this season. Hardly the meeting against his old club that Torres would have dreamed of.

Fulham vs Chelsea, 14th February (scoreless draw)
There was little romance for Torres in this Valentine’s Day West London derby, in which a solid Fulham defence and some errant finishing from the Spaniard meant Torres was yet to be in a winning game for Chelsea. Ancelotti benched Drogba, so it was Torres and Anelka upfront for Chelsea, but the two exhibited little cohesion playing alongside each other, Anelka spending the majority of the game in his standard sulk-face. In fact, the player that truly shone for Chelsea in this game was the other expensive January acquisition, David Luiz, who, despite it being his debut premier league start, played like a veteran of the premier league. He was here, he was there, he was defending, attacking, creating chances; in other words, all the things Torres wasn’t do. Chelsea were unlucky, and should probably have had a penalty when Hangeland felled Malouda, but in the last minute, Man of the Match David Luiz’s lapse led to Chelsea conceding a penalty. The American Clint Dempsey’s penalty was poor and Petr Cech’s save was brilliant, meaning that whilst Chelsea should have won, they were lucky not to lose. "Are you Torres in disguise?" the Fulham fans jeered at Drogba in the second half when he misplaced a hit. Quite.

Copenhagen vs Chelsea, 22nd February (Chelsea win 2-0)
In between this Champions League knockout stages game, Chelsea’s luck went from bad to worse when they got knocked out of the FA Cup to Everton on penalties (a game Torres was ineligible to play in due to being Cup-tied) thanks to two very questionable penalties from Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole. The Frenchman, again employed alongside Torres upfront with Drogba yet again sat on the bench chewing bubble gum and looking glum, atoned himself somewhat in this game, in which two classy finishes from him secured two priceless away goals for Chelsea, temporarily easing the pressure on under-fire gaffer Ancelotti. Before the game, Chelsea captain John Terry issued a rallying cry to his team, urging them to “Man Up”, and his words seemed to have worked; Chelsea looked more assured and together, albeit playing against “lesser” opposition. Torres had the occasional moment of brilliance but was once again frustrated by the Copenhagen defence and his own inability to finish in a Chelsea shirt.

Chelsea vs Manchester United, 1st March (Chelsea win 2-1)
The team against my most despised oppositions in the whole wide world; needless to say, I was wasted. Yet again, it was Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres starting for Chelsea, but there were so many other back stories surrounding this fixture that the Spaniard’s goal drought actually took the sideshow for the first time in a month. For one, Ashley Cole had recently wounded a Chelsea work experience student with a rifle, whilst Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney should have suspended for the game following his elbow on Wigan’s James McCarthy. However, he was allowed to play, and it was he who opened the scoring (grr) in the first half, meaning that, at half-time, not only were Chelsea’s title ambitions out the window, but their chances of securing a CL slot for next season was looking precarious. But in the second half, they showed Manchester United what they were made of. Chelsea new boy David Luiz, who as in the game against Fulham, played a belter, equalised shortly after half-time with a finish that any striker would be proud of, before Smalling tripped up Zhirkov in the penalty area in the 78th minute to allow Frank Lampard to make like Jamie Redknapp tells his son to do in the latest Wii advert - and smash a penalty down the middle, leading to a precious, precious Chelsea win that had me so delirious that on just two pints, I was ALL OVER THE PLACE.

If truth be told, luck was on Chelsea’s side that Tuesday; David Luiz was lucky not to be sent off and Zhirkov’s fall, whilst a legitimate penalty, could just have easily been shrugged off (and in another game, possibly would have been.) However, Carlo Ancelotti, and Chelsea fans weren’t complaining. Torres played well and looked more comfortable with Anelka than he had done in previous games, and funnily enough, it was the fourth time that a game in which he’d played against Nemanja Vidic had resulted in a red card for the Serbian; Vidic being sent off for two bookable offences. Drogba came on for Anelka with half an hour left and the Ivorian saw out the rest of the game in majestic style; the way he took one for the team, when he himself is every bit the superstar that Torres is, was brilliant to see. Chelseabung got lucky in that game, but I wouldn't get too happy, the two upcoming fixtures against Man Utd meant that the luck debt was fully repaid.
Blackpool vs Chelsea, 7th March (Chelsea win 3-1)

Following that morale-boosting win over Utd, Ancelotti pushed the boat out and paired Torres with Drogba (there’s your FIFA dream team) against Blackpool, who, despite fighting the relegation battle, were far from pushovers at home, having scored in every home game this season. However, it was a defender who opened the scoring for Chelsea, John Terry heading powerfully from a Frank Lampard corner in the first half to separate the two sides. In the second half, Drogba picked up a minor knock, but Anelka, his planned replacement, didn’t look at all happy to be coming on, so Ancelotti bunged Kalou on instead, and serendipity would have it that that substitution really swung the game in Chelsea’s favour. Having spent a few minutes on the pitch, Torres sculpted a pass to Kalou to which the Ivorian was felled, giving Chelsea a penalty, to which Lampard dispatched with signature coolness. Kalou and Lampard then combined coolly to score Chelsea’s third, before Blackpool themselves collected a consolation goal. Salomon Kalou, the somewhat “forgotten” player of Chelsea’s four attackers in the wake of Torres’ arrival, gave an excellent account of himself in his performance, and Torres looked more content playing alongside him in a 4-4-1-1 formation that asked lots of questions of Blackpool’s defence.

Chelsea vs Copenhagen, 16th March (scoreless draw)
It was time for Torres to experience starting on the bench, though Ancelotti reasoned that he was resting him for game against Man City that weekend. This meant that the tried-and-tested strikeforce of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka was employed, and although the game saw no goals, it did allow the former to show what a world class player he was. Some of his interplay was absolutely delicious, and had it not been for some lacklustre finishing from Yuri Zhirkov, this Drogba->Cole->Zhirkov could have resulted in one of the best team goals in recent history. Torres came on for a brief while in the second half and the two goal cushion from the first leg allowed for some indulgence on Chelsea’s part; Lampard could have scored towards the end but chose to tee it off to Torres in the hope that the Spaniard would get his first Chelsea goal. It didn’t work, but the thought was there; despite what naysayers may like to think, Torres’ teammates are just as eager/desperate for him to hit the net as he is.

Chelsea vs Manchester City, 20th March (Chelsea win 2-0)
Alas, the CL-slot six-pointer, as well as the clash of the nouvelle-riche vs the newer-nouvelle-riche. Manchester City came with one game plan: 0-0, and thanks to some staunch defending from Vincent Kompany (one of the underrated performers this season) and the City defence, that they almost got. However, the curly-haired, twinkle-toed, goal-scoring defender David Luiz had other ideas, and when he won a free-kick in the 78th minute which Drogba dispatched, he was there to pounce and bung it in the net. In stoppage time, his compatriot Ramires shimmied past two City defenders to slot in Chelsea’s second against Joe Hart, meaning the West London side gleefully leapfrogged City in the league table. Eyebrows were raised when it was noted that both Anelka and Drogba were benched and it was actually Kalou who started alongside Torres, but the Ivorian more than justified his start, and following the strength of their performances together against Blackpool, I’d say the move was bold, but, considering Chelsea won, it paid off. As usual, Torres' contribution to the match was limited, but he did at least wear a cute blue headband that was the exact same shade as his Chelsea strip. Blair Waldorf, eat your heart out!

Stoke vs Chelsea, 2nd April (1-1 draw)
Following an international break, in which Torres disappointed for Spain against the Czech Republic (but at least partook is a display of some sweet Chelsea fraternity at the end when he and Cech had a moment), Ancelotti started with Anelka and Drogba, perhaps with the view of resting Torres for the midweek showdown against Manchester United, and sat next to the perpetually-sweet face of Salomon Kalou on the Chelsea bench, Torres didn't look too chuffed about it. And Chelsea could only salvage a 1-all draw from what was actually a surprisingly even game, Drogba scoring the equaliser for the visiters; both sides had chances aplenty. Torres and Kalou came on for Drogba and Anelka in the second half, but, surprise surprise, the Spaniard didn't score. Again.

Chelsea vs Manchester United, 6th April (Chelsea lose 1-0)
In what was the most important game of Chelsea's season, luck was most certainly not on their side and they slumped to a morale-crushing 1-0 home loss thanks to Wayne Rooney's  goal in the first half. Carlo Ancelotti tried to play 4-4-2 with both the ~FIFA superstars~ Drogba and Torres upfront, but it failed as it did against Blackpool, and unlike against Blackpool, the rest of Chelsea were unable to pick up the slack. Much as it pained me to say it, Rio Ferdinand, coming back from huge spell of injury, had Torres' number, and Drogba, though his feet did all they could, his face told the story of a deeply discontent man. Ramires should have won a penalty and Evra should have been sent off, but this is Chelsea in the CL, when has "should" ever had a damn thing to do with anything?! To be fair, Torres did have one shot that did look to be going in if it weren't for Edwin van der Saar's brilliance, but, that he was booked for diving towards the end of the night summed up a deeply frustrating game for Chelsea on the platform of the CL, the thing they want more than anything else.

Chelsea vs Wigan, 9th April (Chelsea win 1-0)
A very unconvincing win for the home side, against a team who, in their previous two fixtures, they'd aggregated a mass scoreline of 14-0. In the end, Malouda scored the winner in a goalline kefuffle, in which Torres, ironically, did actually play a part - by impeding the Wigan goalkeeper. On the same day, Chelsea's loanee forwards Borini smacked one in for Swansea City, and Danny Sturridge scored two majestic goals for Bolton, bringing his tally since transfering to Bolton up to six. What Torres would give to just one of those six goals. Chelsea loan out one of their strikers who is scoring for fun and spend millions on a player who couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse with the proverbial banjo? Now that, Alanis...

Manchester United vs Chelsea, 12th April (Chelsea lose 2-1)
But I speak on behalf of all Chelsea fans when I say that we would have gladly put our what-ifs on hold if Torres repaid the faith that Ancelotti showed in him, repaid the millions that Roman spent on him and repaid the hours of us fighting his corner when his former blatantly didn't deserve it, with a brace against Manchester United. But it wasn't to be. And to be honest, I  think that as soon as Chelsea fans knew that it wasn't to be, although that didn't stop us from hoping, praying, wanting. But what you can want something as much as you want, it doesn't actually get you it. Torres was so poor in the first half (The Guardian rated his performance a 4/10, only 2 points more than what they gave Crouchie for his performance against Real Madrid -- and he got sent off) that Ancelotti had no choice but to withdraw him for Drogba, who, in the second half, played his heart out. Even when Chelsea were down to 10 men, and chasing a 2-0 deficit, he ran and ran, sought loss causes, and neveve up. Drogba was aptly repaid by a brilliant goal, though in the end, it counted for nothing more than pride as Park Ji Sung scored another practically seconds later. It does raise a pertinent point, though. Carlo Ancelotti, last night, could have seeked to do one of two things, get to the final four of the CL, or appease Roman Abramovich by playing the footballer he spent so much on. In the end, Ancelotti got neither. The woe that befell Chelsea fans after this match is too great to even begin writing about, but I have to admit that this year, with the teams that we put out, we just didn't look good enough. I feel bad for players like Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech, who are amazing. But mostly, I feel for Didier Drogba. He, arguably, out of the entire Chelsea squad, has had his nose put out of joint most by Fernando Torres' arrival. Yet even on his form, which isn't the greatest, he is playing Torres off the pitch. Didier Drogba is a superstar, one of the best forwards in the world, but with 27-year-old Torres being paraded in front of his 33-year-old self, he can't help but wonder where he fits in at Chelsea. But I do so hope he stays, because he is an amazing footballer and an even more amazing man. We may have lost but I'm delighted Didi scored. He, more than anyone, deserved his moment last night.

So all this leaves Chelsea in somewhat of a quagmire (can you tell I've been on a Family Guy binge recently? Can ya?!). They have a £50million, perpetually injured striker who couldn't score in a brothel. They have zero chance of any silverwear this season, and the only thing left to fight for his for third and fourth slot, which is between them, Spurs and Manchester City. The malaise that I, and I imagine all Chelsea fans are currently in is immeasurable, and Carlo Ancelotti best sleep with one eye open if Roman's wrath is anything to be believed. It would be churlish -- and downright unfair -- to lay blame all of Chelsea's problems with Torres (we screwed up our title challenge long before he came along and he was ineligble to play in the FA Cup matches which we screwed up), but at the same time it would be blind to suggest he played no part in the massively dissappointing two games against Manchester United, which were, to be honest, the ones that mattered the most by far. Nicolas Anelka is a gem and has come out and said he "doesn't mind" not starting that much, knowing that as he's over 30 and at a club with four forwards, he needs to be realistic. However, Drogba and Salomon Kalou are clearly thinking over their options. Kalou is 25, an adorable sweetheart and a terrific little utility player for Chelsea, but when he was at Feyenoord with Dirk Kuyt, the two were tearing defences up, and Kalou must secretly pine for the days when he started almost every game, as opposed to for Chelsea, where if he's lucky, he'll get 10 minutes, and if he's very very lucky, he'll get a start, despite the fact that his goals-to-shots ratio has been far better than Torres'. The Fernando Torres jokes come in thick and fast ("Did you hear about my Torres night out?! I spent loads of money, had loads of shots but in the end didn't even score!" is a popular one, as is the website,, which I don't believe will need updating until 2014) and I meet them sometimes with a bittersweet chuckle, sometimes with an ingrained need to defend by team -- and thus Torres. I know Roman Abramovich is a billionaire and can do whatever the hell he wants, but next time, I'd really appreciate it if he approached such a big-sum spending with a little more prudence. Torres and Drogba may score feckloads on FIFA, but, sry2say, Roman, life isn't a game of FIFA. Oh how I wish it was, but nah. At the end of the day, I'll support any player in a Chelsea shirt, even massive flops like Mateja Kezman, but this Torres escapade is all getting a little disappointing.  If I had to do the same again, well, er, I most certainly wouldn't do the same, my friend, Fernando.


Anonymous said...

Nice article. Great point about Kalou - before he joined Chelsea he won Dutch Player of the Year years in a row. It definitely seems unfair that he doesn't play as much as Torres.

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