Wednesday 23 October 2019

Toothless Blues' title hopes in tatters as Torres fails to fire

Chelsea 1 Fulham 1 Jason Burt

Jimmy Greaves went to the Chelsea dressing-room after this encounter to share his memories of the club with the players but, hopefully, he also imparted a few words to Fernando Torres to remind him how to score a goal.

One hundred and thirty-two times in 167 matches, between 1957-61, Greaves caressed the ball into the net for Chelsea and while Torres has also been a great goalscorer, he still appears a man living on his own memories right now rather than justifying that big reputation and that even bigger £50m transfer fee. Torres has scored more goals for Liverpool in the Premier League this year (four) than Chelsea. And he left Anfield in January.

The Spaniard did not play badly, but in his first league start since October 29 he simply didn't do enough as Chelsea slid to a third consecutive 1-1 draw, which deflated their already flaccid title hopes.

Torres played a significant part in Chelsea's goal, taking down Ashley Cole's cross, but it was not a lay-off, more a mis-control, that then led the ball to run to Juan Mata, who struck a whipped, left-foot effort beyond David Stockdale.

Andre Villas-Boas left Didier Drogba on the bench, which, given his age (33) and recent workload, was no surprise, but with the Ivory Coast striker off to the Africa Cup of Nations soon it was a decision that backfired.

Whichever way Chelsea try and sugar-coat it, Torres was a bitter disappointment but the manager persisted with him throughout 90-plus frustrating minutes.

It was a flat atmosphere at the Bridge. Maybe it was the early kick-off, maybe it was a growing sense of apprehension at Chelsea's chequered campaign, maybe it was the realisation that Fulham were well worthy of their derby draw.

It was not a good day for some of Chelsea's big names, with Cole all too easily beaten by Bryan Ruiz for the visitors' equalising goal, which was turned in from close range by Clint Dempsey, and Frank Lampard a pale shadow of himself as he trudged through 61 miserable minutes before being replaced.

The shape of this 'new Chelsea' is becoming clearer by the game and the brutal truth is that it does not include Lampard.

Indeed, Villas-Boas' title concession came with the sureness of a man who knows he has a mandate for change. At least two signings are planned for January -- first up is Bolton's Gary Cahill -- but what is more fascinating is who is on the way out.

In fairness, Fulham played well. Very well. Stockdale pulled off a series of fine saves but he was pipped as Man of the Match by Moussa Dembele.

Chelsea attacked late on, forcing Stockdale into action. He saved from Drogba's shot, he tipped over Raul Meireles' header and pushed away a stooping nod on from Drogba and then turned away Florent Malouda's drive before, finally, diverting Drogba's free-kick.

Chelsea were toothless in the first half, but Mata struck soon after the break. John Arne Riise then blocked a John Terry volley and a curling shot from Sturridge was comfortably tipped over.

By the end, Fulham could have inflicted more damage -- after Chelsea dozed at a free-kick -- but Pajtim Kasami shot poorly at Petr Cech. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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