Saturday 18 November 2017

Tale of two Spaniards as cut-price Michu puts £50m Torres in shade

Mark Ogden

Pity Fernando Torres. Every time he seems close to shaking off the black cloud that followed him from Anfield to Stamford Bridge two years ago, someone comes along to remind us all just how little he has justified his £50m price tag.

For the first 18 months of his Chelsea service, his nemesis also wore Chelsea blue. Didier Drogba's powers appeared to be waning when Roman Abramovich's most extravagant Christmas splurge brought Torres to Cobham.

It worked like a tonic on the Ivorian, who responded to the challenge to produce his defining performances while Torres shrank in his shadow. With Drogba gone in a vapour trail of gilded memories of his winning turn in Munich, this season appeared to offer hope.

Everything has been done to try and wring something approaching his best from the striker, from guaranteeing him a starting place to recruiting Rafael Benitez as his replacement.

There has been a short-term bounce, with seven goals in the 12 games since Benitez arrived. But last night, with Benitez eyeing a Wembley final and a shot at a trophy, it was Michu, the Spaniard whose gifts evaded all but the sharp eye of Michael Laudrup, who showed up his compatriot.

The comparison was irresistible on a night that offered everything Abramovich wants from his new Chelsea except the cutting edge that Torres was supposed to bring.

While Torres labours under a heavy price-tag and a modest record of 26 goals in 75 appearances for Chelsea, Michu's value is enhanced with every goal in the most startling of debut seasons. Recruited from Rayo Vallecano, he cost Swansea just £2m. With 15 goals already this season that amounts to about £133,000 a goal, or one-15th of the price of every Torres goal.

In a first half he was again the difference. With Chelsea increasingly authoritative in possession, Swansea were starved of the ball and Michu had nothing approaching a clear chance until the 39th minute – but when the opportunity came he did not waste it.

Chelsea had shown great poise on the ball, managing some of their most coherent football of the season, but a single mistake was enough to let in Michu.

When Branislav Ivanovic applied a heavy touch to a ball rolled to him by his goalkeeper, Swansea midfielder Jonathan de Guzman was on him, ferrying the ball immediately to Michu on the edge of the box. He took a single touch away from Gary Cahill and then curled the ball left-footed past Ross Turnbull at his near post. It was as emphatic as it was incisive, and it left the locals seething.

By the middle of a frustrating second half they were chanting for Demba Ba, above Torres in the fans' affections it seems after a single appearance and two goals in the FA Cup against Southampton. When the Senegalese forward finally replaced Torres on 80 minutes the cheer that rang from the Matthew Harding Stand amounted to a vote of no-confidence.

Benitez would not win a popularity contest with Alex Ferguson at the Bridge at the moment, and his declaration that time is up for Chelsea's "legends" has converted no one.

Bruce Buck, the chairman of the board that has sanctioned the clear out of the over-30s, starting with Frank Lampard, was left in no doubt as to the fans feelings before kick-off. On the pitch to help Peter Bonetti present Petr Cech with a bauble to mark his 400 appearances from the club, Buck was booed, and Lampard's name sung loud and clear.

For the owner's public proxy, and the club he chairs, it was a chastening evening. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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