Saturday, January 14, 2012
Torres sparkles to dispel Chelsea gloom
Kevin Palmer, Stamford Bridge
Chelsea were not expecting to wait a whole year for Fernando Torres to come out of his shell, but their £50 million misfit may just be about to emerge into the light once again.
Premier League gallery
Frank Lampard may have taken the plaudits as he scored another winning goal in a game that could so easily have slipped away against an impressive Sunderland side, but the promising display of Torres gives boss Andre Villas-Boas hope that his No.9 is not a lost cause after all.
Starting his third successive match for the first time during Villas-Boas's reign as Chelsea manager, the Spaniard created his side's first goal, should have won a penalty in the second half and showed more of the energy and drive that made him one of the world's top marksmen during his days as Liverpool's deadly striker.
It is too much to expect him to find his best form after a dip that has eroded his self belief to damaging levels, yet his eagerness to move into dangerous positions and the burst of pace that seems to be returning to his game suggests Torres may soon find himself back among the goals with the regularity that used to be his trademark.
Torres came within of scoring the winning goal in this game as his acrobatic attempt to score in the 13th minute crashed off the bar before Lampard tapped home from close range, inspiring boss Villas-Boas to break with convention as he picked out his No.9 for special praise as he met the media.
"The performance from Torres was good," said Villas-Boas, bucking a trend that has long seen him only offer praise to his team collective rather than individuals. "He is getting a good run of games, finding his motivation and he has his team mates and the fans behind him today.
"It's good to see the way this club helps to lift people and even though he is not scoring too often, he is getting closer all the time. I'm sure the goals will come for him soon."
This game swung on a hat-trick of penalty decisions from referee Phil Dowd, with at least two of the calls made by the burly official proving to be incorrect as television replays exposed his misjudgements is graphic fashion.
As Torres tumbled in the box under the challenge of John O'Shea mid-way through the second half, referee Dowd could easily have pointed to the spot and he certainly should have done so moments later as Nicklas Bendtner was shoved over by Ashley Cole as this game swung from end to end with thrilling pace.
Dowd completed his indifferent afternoon by booking Torres when he had his standing leg taken away from him in the box by Phil Bardsley, leaving the Spaniard to slap the ground in despair as he knew an injustice has occurred.
In the end it mattered little as Chelsea got the win they so badly needed, though Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill justifiably claimed his side deserved more from a game when they created a host of presentable opportunities.
"Had we taken even one of the five fantastic chances we created, we would have got a draw out of this game and that is the least that we deserved," said O'Neill. "It nags at me that we are leaving here with nothing and we could and should have so much more. It's not that difficult to score a goal, but we made it look that way in this game."
Republic of Ireland Euro 2012 hopeful James McClean, Bendtner and Craig Gardner should all have scored the goal O'Neill's men would have deserved against a Chelsea defensive line that looked rocky throughout.
On this evidence, Gary Cahill's arrival from Bolton cannot come quick enough for Villas-Boas, as this team are crying out for a fresh injection of stability at the back.
Luck as much as judgement kept Chelsea's clean sheet intact on this occasion, giving Villas-Boas a chance to hail his side's effort on a day when draws for Liverpool and Tottenham allowed his side to gain points in the race to secure a top four finish in the Premier League.
"It was very good effort for us to end Sunderland's amazing run of form," added the Chelsea boss, who was sporting a newly cropped haircut. "They were tight and compact in the first half, looking for the counter attack and then the second half saw both teams create very good chances. A second goal would have allowed us to see the game off easily, but we showed solidarity to find a way to get to the end."
While both O'Neill and his Chelsea counterpart Villas-Boas could take positives and negatives from this compelling Premier League match, it was Torres who could feel as if he had taken a sizeable step forward in his slow and often painful road back to the top.
He still has a long way to travel before the Torres of old is back on the scene, but this lost soul is showing some signs of life at last.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Fernando Torres
Yes it is true, the £50 million Spaniard played well for Chelsea at last! The run he has been given in the starting line-up is allowing him to find his feet after his year from hell.
BRAVE ZOLA: Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola took up his seat among the Chelsea fans a full half an hour before kick-off and he was predictably mobbed by Blues supporters. The always cheerful Italian didn't seem too disturbed by the adulation flowing in his direction.
GARY CAHILL UPDATE: Chelsea boss Villas-Boas confirmed he expects the deal to sign the Bolton defender will be completed on Sunday. He was at Stamford Bridge to watch his new team-mates scrape out a win against a dangerous Sunderland.
SUNDERLAND VERDICT: The O'Neill revival did not come to an end with this defeat. A lack of cutting edge cost them dear on a day when they could have won if they were more ruthless in front of goal. However, their improvement in the last month has been remarkable.
CHELSEA VERDICT: Gary Cahill is needed to revitalise a Chelsea defence that will not hold firm so long as David Luiz and John Terry flounder in unison. There are still plenty of weak spot in Villas-Boas's side, but they deserve credit for grinding out a win on a day when they could so easily have been embarrassed on home soil once again.