Friday 15 December 2017

Ailing Torres takes first small steps on the road to recovery

Paul Kelso

What would you prescribe for Fernando Torres, a striker in recovery from a traumatic loss of form?

Several managerial physicians have come and gone at Chelsea without finding the cause of what ails him, with Rafael Benitez, the family doctor who knows him best, the latest to seek the answer.

Benitez will have established that a rest cure is out of the question. Such radical treatment saw Roberto Di Matteo sacked in the morning after he left Torres out of Chelsea's Champions League tie in Turin.

Having watched his patient labour through three league games since then without a goal, extending his scoreless streak to seven largely excruciating matches, the visit of FC Nordsjælland must have seemed a perfect tonic.

Who better to plump up the patient's self-esteem and help relocate that sense of certainty in front of goal than the owners of Champions League's leakiest defence, in London with no chance of qualifying?

So it proved. After several false starts, spurned opportunities and two penalty kicks inexplicably passed up by Chelsea's No 9, it worked. On a night where small mercies were all Chelsea and their truculent supporters had to be grateful for, Torres scored twice.

A brace against the porous Danes does not mean he is restored to full health, but there were signs of genuine life.

Neither goal was a classic to set alongside the instinctive masterpieces on his highlights reel and owed a little to luck, but they were deserved.

This was not an effervescent performance from Torres, but there was enough to suggest that the patient may be in remission. He was a willing runner, offering himself for short passes with back to goal, and trying to break into the channels when the more direct pass was on.

He almost scored after six minutes, Jesper Hansen saving at his near post after he robbed Nicolai Stokholm with an urgency absent for much of the last month.

The goal finally came courtesy of a straightforward ball into the outside-right channel from Victor Moses. Having escaped Michael Parkhurst, Torres' shot hit the advancing Hansen and rebounded to the centre-forward. Gifted a second chance he made no mistake, steering the ball in from a tight angle.

The celebrations were not wild – he has not lost his self-awareness along with his form – but Eden Hazard (left) at least made the effort to suggest Torres is not a man alone.

Had he taken his chances, he could have had a hat-trick before he got his second, a far more encouraging product of a sweeping exchange with Eden Hazard that began 40 yards from goal and ended with Torres tucking the ball home at the near post.

As Chelsea turned their first-half labours into a romp, with goals from Gary Cahill, Juan Mata and Oscar, Torres could have had a hat-trick. Hansen saved at his near post, and he should have had a penalty when Parkhurst shoved him.

He will not quibble. The match-ball from the game in which Chelsea became the first Champions League holders to go out in the group stage is not one to treasure. The unfamiliar sound of the fans briefly singing his name will have meant a great deal more, and done as much to speed his recovery as anything. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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