FERNANDO TORRES refused to take a penalty for Chelsea on Tuesday night that might have ended a goal drought now approaching five months and fully 24 hours of playing time.
The £50m striker had been brought down to win a spot-kick during the 2-0 FA Cup win against Birmingham but, according to team-mate Juan Mata, insisted they stick to their prearranged list of penalty takers.
Mata duly missed the penalty and yesterday revealed that he would have been willing to step aside in favour of his Spain international team-mate.
"I asked him if he wanted to take it because he provoked the penalty," explained Mata.
"He said: 'I'm not first on the list to shoot', so that's what happened. It was because he forced the penalty that I gave him the chance."
Asked if he was surprised that Torres did not volunteer, Mata said: "I don't know. Roberto Di Matteo puts up a list with who shoots penalties and that was it."
Torres played the full 90 minutes of Tuesday's fifth-round replay, but was again lacking sharpness, while his decision not to step forward for the penalty hardly reflects favourably on his confidence.
Mata, though, claimed that the result would help Chelsea's collective self-belief. "It was important for the confidence of the team and it could be a new start, the beginning of a good run of results for us," he said.
There are ongoing questions, however, about the unity of the dressing room following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas.
While Mata celebrated his goal against Birmingham, Raul Meireles did not do the same when he scored and pointedly marched off the pitch and down the tunnel at the final whistle. Meireles, who was signed by Villas-Boas, looked furious.
Alex, the former Chelsea centre-back, who was sold by Villas-Boas in January, yesterday accused his former manager of not showing enough respect to Frank Lampard.
"Andre is not the kind of person who talks a lot, he's someone who is a bit closed," Alex said. "I saw some comments of Lampard recently and I think he deserved more respect. It is true that a player knows he will sometimes have to stay on the bench, especially after reaching a certain age. That's not a problem. But with Lampard's history at the club, where he has more than 10 years, he deserves a word or an explanation from the manager."
Alex did praise Villas-Boas's qualities on the training ground, but questioned whether the coaches had been affected by the pressure to win the Champions League. "You cannot say that this pressure affects the players every day, but perhaps it affects the work of coaches," he said.
Mata, though, dismissed suggestions of dressing-room splits and said there had been sadness at Villas-Boas' demise. "There is a lot of unity," he said. "No matter who the manager is we are all focused on the same objective. We must do the best for the club.
"Andre was a very good manager and a very good person as well. We are very grateful to him. We were sad because it's always a difficult moment when a club changes its manager. He was important for me. It's obvious I came here for the club, but for him as well. He gave me a lot of confidence."
Mata also disclosed how Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, had addressed the players on Sunday following Villas-Boas' dismissal. "He said that we have an opportunity to change this run of defeats and against Birmingham we did so we have to keep going and try to get better. We will try to win this FA Cup and against Napoli in the Champions League."
Pep Guardiola remains Chelsea's first-choice target to replace Villas-Boas on a permanent basis, although there are serious doubts as to whether he would want to leave Barcelona. Abramovich would like to appoint a young, attack-minded coach with the strength of personality to overhaul an ageing squad.
Chelsea's progress in the FA Cup, meanwhile, is likely to mean that their Premier League fixture against Manchester City will be pushed back from March 19 to 21, three days after their Cup quarter-final with Leicester. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Listen to Chelsea anthem Blue Is The Colour 614 times.
Run 556 miles at Usain Bolts' average speed over 100 metres.
Fly from Madrid to London and back five times, with a morale-boosting stopover in Liverpool every time.
Read a tenth of of the words written about the new iPad yesterday.
Score 14 goals, as Robin van Persie has in his last 1,431 minutes in the Premier League.