Friday, April 5, 2013
Torres steals the show against Rubin
Miguel Delaney, Stamford Bridge
The most obvious line is about the mask. The more complicated truth, however, is that this double against Rubin Kazan surprisingly represented Fernando Torres's 17th and 18th goals of the season - an eminently respectable haul. That, certainly, is one odd stat that has been obscured.
As such, because of reasons from both sides of the argument, it seems incorrect to talk about rebirths or turning points for the forward. Rafa Benitez even made a point of mentioning that "Fernando needed a goal because every press conference was the same questions" about him.
What can be said with certainty after this 3-1 win, however, is that the Spanish striker demanded attention, focus and headlines for all the right reasons.
His first goal was the game's opener and illustrated opportunism as well as doggedness. His second goal was the game's last and illustrated a striker suddenly playing with confidence as he superbly and powerfully plundered a header.
Together, they went a long way to sending Chelsea to the semi-finals of the Europa League and represented one of Torres's most complete performances in a Chelsea shirt.
If that was out of keeping with the general season, though, it was in-keeping with the night.
Despite the fact we are now only three games from the final, there was a surreal air to this match, only exacerbated by the near-total absence of away fans. Just 47 sat in a stand allocated for 3,000.
It was just in front of them that Torres impressively forced in the first on 16 minutes. After David Luiz had picked him out with a superb long-range pass reminiscent of Ronald Koeman, the striker initially seemed to get the ball stuck under his body after an awkward first touch.
With Kazan goalkeeper Sergie Ryzhikov reacting slowly, however, Torres managed to dig the ball out from under his body and in. Chelsea and their number-nine on their way.
Within seconds, in fact, Torres was attempting a Rabona pass.
It probably says a lot that the last time the Spaniard attempted that was in a similarly surreal continental game in which he broke a duck: the hat-trick in the 6-1 win over Nordsjaelland that actually saw Chelsea eliminated from the Champions League.
Either way, to give him his due, Torres was also soon providing the kind of donkey work Benitez has frequently brought up in order to deflect criticism. In the 31st minute, he held the ball up and tried to force it towards goal, only for it to find its way out to Victor Moses. He lashed it home to further assert Chelsea's clear superiority.
At that stage of the game, it actually seemed like Benitez's side could genuinely rack up a healthy lead to spare some of their key players a trip to Russia ahead of the FA Cup semi-final next week. They were that dominant.
This being Chelsea this season, though, it was never going to be smooth.
There was that one incident that complicates both the tie and the run-in given Benitez's necessity to strike a balance with rotation.
In the 41st minute, John Terry was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box.
Afterwards, the captain protested his innocence.
"I'm a bit disappointed with the penalty personally, and collectively. We were cruising going into half-time and I don't think it was a penalty either. When someone has a shot 10 yards away it's difficult. It's different when your arm's up, but mine were by my side. You don't get much time to react and, when your arms are down by your side, it's difficult."
Benitez struck a similar tone.
There was no debate about Bebars Natcho's finish, though, as he despatched the ball past Cech.
Even after that, however, Rubin could never generate the necessary energy to sufficiently trouble Chelsea. They played some nice passes in the period after half-time but it all only dabbled at the game.
Torres couldn't have been accused of doing the same for the final goal in the 70th minute. After Yossi Benayoun had opened up the pitch with a smart turn, the ball was moved out to Mata. He crossed for his compatriot to thunder in the most emphatic of headers.
The rest of the match never matched such levels of rigour. Indeed, Chelsea's comfort was reflected by the fact that, at one stage, Terry strode forward, controlled the ball with his heel and, before it touched the ground, lofted it out wide. It was certainly different to making a double-tackle with your head.
Chelsea, meanwhile, could save energy for more exacting matches - like the second leg will surely be. At the least, they've given themselves a healthy lead.
And, after so much many ructions, so many doubts and so much controversy throughout this season, Chelsea are coming to form at the right time and in impressive enough manner. Despite the fixture congestion, they have a new confidence and competitiveness.
Once again, they remain on track to meet their targets.
There's no masking that.