Sunday 26 January 2020

Magnificent Long leaves Torres in the shade

West Brom 2
Chelsea 1

Paul Kelso

Chelsea's vanquished team ended their second consecutive defeat to West Bromwich Albion with an angry inquest, but the elephant in the dressing-room needs no debate.

He is six foot, bottle blond, and has forgotten how to score.

Fernando Torres was dismal at the Hawthorns, an anaemic and ineffective presence at the point of Chelsea's attack, and utterly upstaged by the marvellous Shane Long, who scored the first and made the second of West Brom's goals in a performance that was marked by the selfless running and potency so obviously missing from the Spaniard's.

When manager Roberto Di Matteo brought Torres' afternoon to an end after just 62 deeply unsatisfactory minutes, the home fans jeered the £50m man with cries of "what a waste of money". The Chelsea contingent offered polite applause, but social media suggested a more visceral reaction.

Torres' loss of confidence and sharpness is not news, but here he appeared short on application too, a sin that will try the patience of fans and manager, even when the player represents owner Roman Abramovich's greatest indulgence.

At a more straightforward club than Chelsea the Spaniard, who has seven goals this season but just one in the last seven games, would have been fearing for his place long ago. After Saturday's defeat, Di Matteo said he would not shirk from taking that decision if it was right for the team, though it may not just be politics that stays his hand.

Daniel Sturridge craves a chance to lead the Chelsea line, and given half an hour in his favoured position he offered a greater threat. But he failed to convert any of the three chances created for him by Juan Mata and Oscar, whose introduction from the bench transformed Chelsea as an attacking force.

The first two were foiled by the excellent Boaz Myhill in the West Brom goal, but the third, falling to his favoured left foot in space, was dragged wide of the far post. Di Matteo did not appear willing to indulge the miss.

"He was always a threat but we need to score goals," he said.

While Torres' nightmare continues, Long, playing 24 hours after the death of his grandmother, and the rest of Steve Clarke's fine side, can do no wrong. This win, their sixth at home from seven games, was hard-earned and merited and lifted them to fourth in the table, just a point behind Chelsea.

While the visitors made five changes from their previous league game, with Mata, Oscar and Ramires rested after epic midweek journeys for international duty, West Brom were settled and utterly committed.

Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudia Yacob offered control and security in central midfield, James Morrison was in the sort of form that prompted Garth Crooks to tip the Scot for England, and Long and Peter Odemwingie offered a cutting edge.

Long gave Gary Cahill an afternoon almost as torrid as his encounter with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Stockholm, evaded David Luiz to head the first and then found Odemwingie to glance in the winner, with the Chelsea centre-halves again spectators.

It left Clarke trying to dampen expectations in the home dressing-room, while the visitors spoke frankly next door. "Within the building we'll work really hard to make sure the players keep their feet on the ground, although I don't really have any concerns about that because they're a good group," he said.

"They know what we're trying to achieve, that we have to take it step by step and not get carried away." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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