Misfit Torres desperate for place in the sun after latest flop
Norwich City 0 Chelsea 0
QUITE what Andre Villas-Boas has in mind to pep up Fernando Torres on this week's team-bonding mission to Majorca is a mystery.
So fast is the Chelsea striker's confidence falling, after a toothless display at Norwich that extended his goal drought to 15 hours and 19 minutes, that you suspect even a blue rosette for 'most lovingly tended hair' might give him a restorative kick.
Torres, the £50m man, is seeing, not just his stock, but his dignity shredded with every appearance. Chants of "What a waste of money" resounded around Carrow Road.
The taunting grew crueller: "We'd rather have Grant Holt," the Norwich supporters cried. So, too, would Chelsea fans at this rate.
The centre-forward's return of three goals in 31 games for the club makes that of the notoriously ineffectual Andrei Shevchenko, who managed nine in 48, seem Messi-like by comparison. When Villas-Boas finally hooked him after 76 minutes, Torres could not have looked more sullen or hollow-eyed.
For player and manager alike, it is a dismal state of affairs. Villas-Boas cannot settle upon a coherent strategy. Either Torres plays all-game, every game with Didier Drogba away at the Africa Cup of Nations, or he is sold.
Substituting him at Norwich, with a quarter of an hour left and the match delicately poised, is not exactly the gesture of faith needed to buttress his self-belief.
"Strikers live off goals," Villas-Boas said. "Their confidence builds up and the movement improves. You can't say that he is not trying. He is making the right movements, he is present in the box. One day I think it will go for him."
Chelsea's Balearic escape could be precisely the tonic they require. This latest result was, for all Norwich's resilience, a significant setback, extinguishing the last puff of title hope that they had gathered from impressive wins over Wolves and Sunderland.
But a dose of winter sun is likely to assist not simply in Torres' revival, but in the integration of new centre-back Gary Cahill and the preparation for a febrile FA Cup tie at QPR next Saturday.
Already fears are growing over crowd unrest, as Chelsea return to the scene of the race row that has engulfed John Terry and Anton Ferdinand since last October.
Villas-Boas played the diplomat, explaining: "It is our responsibility to calm the situation around the game."
On whether Terry could cope with the likely vitriol at Loftus Road, he smiled and replied: "I think so."
For Norwich, the trajectory continues ever upward. Superbly disciplined in defence, they thwarted all of Torres' incursions.
The stand-out performer proved to be goalkeeper John Ruddy, who denied Torres with an agile first-half save before keeping out a powerful Juan Mata shot to secure his first shut-out of the season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)