Did Fernando Torres respond to Rafa Benitez as Chelsea manager?
If there was one man at Stamford Bridge who should have been thrilled to see Rafael Benitez arrive, it was Fernando Torres. He did not score yesterday but there was enough improvement to suggest he might well benefit from the management of his old mentor.
Rafael Benitez insisted on Friday that he still sees "a player with commitment" in Torres. That was not always obvious under Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto Di Matteo. Yesterday he looked more concerned. Torres had that fierce edge back which suggests he cared about the result. He put Zabaleta, one of the Premier League's toughest defenders, on the ground early on. As the game went on, thwarted runs ended with Torres tripping first James Milner and then Kolarov. After the second foul, he was frustrated enough to hammer the ball into the hoardings. Of course fair play is preferable to foul, but this was an improvement of sorts.
Torres is never going to be Didier Drogba but there is clearly still an expectation at Chelsea for a striker who can win the ball in the air. He had long passes thrown up towards him, not to run on to but to turn and control. This is not Torres's natural game and never has been. He did not, in truth, win very many of them. But not many strikers dominate Kompany in the air. Even Drogba could not always. But Torres continued to leap and challenge, having marginally more success up against Kolarov or Matija Nastasic. A more selfish striker might have spent less time helping his team but the commitment itself is to be applauded.
The Torres we knew at Liverpool was a ferocious attacker of space, never happier than when charging beyond defences. There were signs yesterday of the old instincts returning. Late in the first half he skipped past Pablo Zabaleta, awakening the crowd. Twice in succession after the break he darted inside Aleksandar Kolarov, testing out City's slowest defender. With three minutes to go it took a desperate saving tackle by Vincent Kompany to stop him. With a touch more pace Torres might have broken through.
Torres's lack of goals at Chelsea has been explained by Benitez as being due to the team rather than the man himself. With more chances, the manager said, Torres would score more goals. He only had one real opportunity yesterday, coming early in the second half. Eden Hazard flicked the ball to him on the edge of the box, Yaya Touré slipped and Torres drilled the ball with his left foot over the bar. It would have been an excellent goal. With sharper movement Torres might well have got more chances, but he did not.