Torres business venture falls flat
On the 65th minute of this match, when the fourth official held up his board to reveal the identity of the Chelsea player who was to be replaced by the substitute Salomon Kalou, the noise that emanated from the Liverpool supporters was so substantial you might have been forgiven for thinking the club had just landed its sixth European Cup.
What manna it was for the visitors that the number to make way was nine, that of Fernando Torres.
For a second or two, as Torres ended his entirely anonymous debut for the blues by slipping on a tracksuit and taking up a position on the bench, it was just jeers we could hear. Then the noise formed itself into a chant, dripping with venom.
"You should have stayed at a big club," they sang.
For the spurned red masses, with three points gleaned from a clever, disciplined performance by their team and an early exit for the man now even less popular in Liverpool circles than Gary Neville, there was no need for the dish to cool: revenge was all the more delicious for being instantaneous.
Torres last week took the opportunity of his move from Liverpool to Chelsea to announce that romance had no place in football. It was a business, he insisted. And he was simply doing what any ambitious young man in his position would do, taking a business opportunity. Now he was moving to a proper club.
Yesterday it was clear that he was right on one count at least. His hasty departure from Liverpool had severed all the romantic ties that had once bound the fresh-faced Spaniard to the red hordes, who fondly believed their devotion was reciprocated.
And for the fuming Liverpool followers, chucking their now loathed Torres shirts out on to the Stamford Bridge turf, it wasn't just the desertion, it was the insult he delivered to their sense of history. Joining a bigger club? That cut to the quick those for whom history is about all they have these days.
Many a Merseyside bed had been denuded of its sheet to provide a platform for the expression of that hurt. As Torres emerged from the tunnel before kick-off, casting the briefest of glances at his former followers packed into the corner of the Shed stand, the home-made banners were angrily flourished.
"Those who betray will always walk alone," read one. "18 titles, 5 European cups, is Chelsea a bigger club?" said another. While a long number running along the front of the top tier of the stand attempted to take a humorously dismissive position. "You paid £50m for Margi Clarke," it read, a pop cultural reference dating from about the last time Liverpool won the title.
Torres began as if intent on stamping on all remaining vestige of romance. Within 90 seconds, he was bearing down on the Liverpool goal with a hint of that familiar aggression, only to blast the ball over the bar. For the Chelsea fans, it augured well.
But this was a display of potential that seemed to act as a spur to the Liverpool players. From then on, every space he attempted to explore was closed down. Within the next 20 minutes, he was easily dispossessed by Martin Kelly, by Daniel Agger, by a combination of Raul Meireles and Lucas.
Liverpool's players seemed to move into action quicker when he had the ball than any of his new colleagues, spurred perhaps by a close working knowledge of what he can do if gifted time and space. No one more exemplified the red team's determination more than Jamie Carragher, whose whole-hearted sliding tackle denied the Spaniard his best chance.
Kenny Dalglish afterwards dismissed the idea that his defenders had been inspired by revenge to snuff out Torres. They merely carried out their instructions. "I'm not interested in talking about other people's players," he said, when asked for his opinion of his former centre forward's performance.
And he was right to be reticent: there wasn't much to say. For much of his debut here Torres resembled the forlorn, unhappy figure he had cut under Roy Hodgson, the forward mocked by Everton supporters as Mr Sulk. There was no need for him to concern himself with destiny, no need to worry about whether to celebrate should he score: he came nowhere near hitting the net.
He was peripheral, uninspired, unlikely to inspire a stampede for the "new Torres shirts" being advertised on the hoardings round the ground. It may be too soon to say that his debut marked the surrender of his new club's title ambitions. But his £50m recruitment provided no instant assistance to the cause.
"He needs time to adjust," said Carlo Ancellotti. The Chelsea manager is right. Torres needs to make the new system designed to accommodate him work, he needs the chances to fall to his feet, he needs to cast aside Mr Sulk and rediscover the confidence that two seasons ago made him the most significant player in the Premier League.
The Spaniard is too good for the power not to return. Perhaps we were simply deluded to imagine it might be there from the start. After all, this is football, not romance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)