Saturday, April 9, 2011
Drought continues for sorry Torres
Kevin Palmer. Stamford Bridge
His face adorned the front cover of the matchday programme of a fixture that appeared to provide the ideal opportunity for a debut goal, yet Fernando Torres's Chelsea horror story refuses to end.
• Chelsea 1-0 Wigan
• Ancelotti: Blues must improve
The £50 million misfit may only have played 31 minutes of this unconvincing Chelsea victory, yet it was another half an hour of misery to add to the stockpile he has built up in a blue shirt, as a host of chances slipped through the Spaniard's fingers against a Wigan side who were almost asking to be put out of their misery.
Torres has now played over 650 minutes in Chelsea blue without scoring a goal and not even the presence of a Wigan side who have conceded 14 goals in their last two games against Carlo Ancelotti's men heralded the turning of a corner for the Premier League's most expensive player.
This appeared to be the ideal fixture for Torres to banish his Chelsea demons, yet Ancelotti resisted the chance to start his flop and he instead turned to tried-and-tested duo of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka as his side looked to bounce back from their 1-0 Champions League quarter-final reverse against Manchester United last Wednesday.
While Chelsea's dominance against the Latics was all but complete, the killer instinct that has seen them dismiss such lowly opponents with arrogant ease down the years was ominously lacking, leaving the home side to fret nervously as Wigan pushed for an unlikely equaliser in the closing stages.
In the end, a scrambled and contested 67th-minute Florent Malouda goal proved to be enough to seal all three points for Chelsea on a day when the frustration of the Stamford Bridge faithful threatened to overflow, as their once-dominant side appear to have lost their aura for good.
Admittedly, this was a weakened side as the likes of John Terry and Michael Essien were rested ahead of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against United, though the lack of cutting edge in a side overloaded with proven international performers was impossible to ignore.
Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole have been used to ripping into Wigan with relish down the years, but this performance was stuttering rather than staggering, with Torres failing to shake off the theory that his goal drought is due more to permanently fading powers than a dip in form.
As he raced through on goal with three minutes to play, all at Stamford Bridge held their breath at the prospect of a belated first goal for a striker who has been the subject of so much conjecture, though a scuffed finish confirmed the Torres of old is not ready to return just yet. That miss was to be trumped seconds later as he was handed a chance to beat Ali Al Habsi from inside the penalty box, only for him to hit the Wigan keeper with the goal at his mercy.
When he was the most prolific striker of them all in Liverpool red, such a chance would have fallen into the routine category, but it seems that those days are long gone as he now does an impression of a hit-man out of his depth in the Premier League.
To their credit, the Chelsea fans seem determined to stay loyal to Torres, with this chanting of his name and cheers as he warmed up on the touchline confirming they have not lost hope that he can be their scoring hero when it matters most, with Ancelotti doing his best to support his man as he met the media.
"Maybe Fernando will end up scoring the most important goals of our season," the Chelsea boss said. "He did well in this game as in just half an hour, he had four chances to score a goal and he was unlucky not to get his first Chelsea goal in this game. The keeper made a fantastic save to deny him at one point and we still have faith in him.
"Everyone wants him to score the first goal and we know that Torres is a great player who will score many times for us. At this moment, it is not happening for him, but at least we did not suffer for the chances we missed in this game as we did enough to win in the end.
"I will not decide on whether Fernando plays at Old Trafford on Tuesday until closer to that game, but I believe he can be a big player for us in the important moments. He has shown in the past he can do this."
Chelsea officials constantly dispute the notion that Torres has to be picked for the biggest of games to satisfy the whims of the owner who spent so much money to secure his services, yet it would be ridiculous if Ancelotti selects a horribly out-of-touch striker ahead of Drogba or Anelka in the game that will define Chelsea's season at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
However, when a club is dominated by an all-powerful owner whose presence weighs so heavily on the manager he employs, such unfathomable selections do not need to be explained.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ali Al Habsi.
The Wigan keeper pulled off a couple of fine saves and did the simple things effectively as Chelsea's attacking stars looked likely to fluff their lines.
MARTINEZ RANT: Wigan boss Roberto Martinez was convinced Torres elbowed his keeper in the build up to the only goal of this game. "I rate Howard Webb highly as a referee, but we are so disappointed that he missed a clear elbow in the face of my keeper from Torres as that was the big call of the game," he said.
XBOX GENERATION: Kids were flocking to the Xbox consoles at the back of the Stamford Bridge stand after just 15 minutes of this game, as their eagerness to watch the action on the pitch waned quickly. The numbers gathered around the games consoles in the second half, as these junior Chelsea 'fans' confirmed their interest in the team is very much of a passing nature.
TORRES VERDICT: There doesn't appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Chelsea's £50 million flop and while Ancelotti's public support for him is commendable, he has to be bold and leave him on the bench for the Champions League re-match against Manchester United on Tuesday. The odds on him doing that are slim.