Most of Di Matteo's eggs in one basket with 'Jekyll and Hyde' Torres
QPR 0 Chelsea 0
Published 17/09/2012 | 05:00
IF the pre-match discussions were about opposing centre-halves Anton Ferdinand and John Terry, much of the talk after an uninspiring goalless draw centred on the way another defender, the admirable Ryan Nelsen, negated the threat of Britain's most expensive striker.
When -- or if -- the dust settles over the handshake row that refuses to go away, a sense of perspective would highlight two major factors that will determine whether QPR and Chelsea will be successful or not this season.
While QPR may have to call on the old guard again to move away from the foot of the table, Chelsea's ability to stay top of the league and repeat their Champions League and FA Cup triumphs will rely heavily on the form of Fernando Torres, who is already reprising the Jekyll and Hyde role that polarised opinion so much last season.
The Spaniard ended the season on a high, scoring decisive goals on the way to a Champions League, FA Cup and European Championship treble. He spoke at the start of this season about his a renewed sense of form and confidence, yet his past two performances have been reminders of last season's frustrations.
After an early shot that Julio Cesar did well to save, Torres failed to trouble the Brazilian goalkeeper, making an impressive debut after signing from Inter Milan. The Spaniard looked dejected long before he was ejected by Roberto Di Matteo in the 80th minute, to be replaced by Daniel Sturridge.
Torres walked straight down the players' tunnel with the jeers of QPR supporters ringing in his ears, having been marked out of the match by 36-year-old Nelsen, the game's best player.
Di Matteo appeared unconcerned either at his star man's stroppy attitude, or his lack of a threat, saying: "No, we can't put too much pressure on one man. We are a team, everybody has responsibilities and we are looking for other players to score goals as well." But with Didier Drogba gone, Chelsea's only alternative centre-forward is Sturridge. Di Matteo hinted that he may be given more chances in that position, especially if Torres continues to be inconsistent. "I think so, yes. I have played him out wide, but today I put him in the middle and he will get more chances there.
"We have seven games in 21 days so there will be chances for everybody. The good thing for him is that he will get to play more minutes. As long as he keeps training well, he will get the opportunities to show his qualities."
Sturridge and fellow substitute Victor Moses, making his debut after signing from Wigan last month, were lively, but could find no way past Nelsen, who brought his experience to bear in keeping Chelsea at bay.
After Cesar's early saves from Torres and Eden Hazard, who missed a sitter in the closing stages, the Brazilian was hardly tested because Nelsen kept such a tight rein at the back. He bullied Torres into submission and made blocks to keep out Moses and Hazard.
Hughes was effusive in praise of the New Zealander, signed on a free transfer from Tottenham this summer.
"I thought he was excellent," said the manager. "We talked after the game about good performances and I had to check the guys and say 'who have you forgotten?' and straightaway we all said 'Ryan Nelsen'.
"Just because we expect him to bang out performances like that, we sometimes don't give the credit he deserves. You know what you're going to get from him, a consistent level of performance. He's gone up against a striker of world renown and really dominated him and given the week that's he had, flying halfway round the world, it's great credit to him."
As a former striker who enjoyed a battle, Hughes had some sympathy for Torres. "I thought he was frustrated because he was finding it very difficult to have an impact on the game and that's credit to Ryan and his performance." Even though he lost Andrew Johnson with a knee injury, Hughes has more central strikers at his disposal than Di Matteo.
Asked if Chelsea were putting all their eggs in one basket with Torres, he quipped: "It's not a bad basket is it? He's a good player and he'll have better days than he did today bit that was credit to my centre-half." Hughes' only concern over Nelsen had been about his fitness. After being released by Blackburn in January, Nelsen played a handful of games for Tottenham before representing his country in the Olympic Games.
"Initially I had to make sure Ryan was fit and ready for Premier League games. He came back late because of the Olympics so I had to be careful, but he's showed his value already. I knew what I was getting.
"He's 35 and the only shame is he's not 25 -- though possibly he wouldn't be playing for us if he was." (© Daily Telegraph London)