Torres' revival continues with hat-trick against QPR
Chelsea 6 Queens Park Rangers 1: When Fernando Torres scored his third goal of the afternoon, there were the kind of high-fives exchanged among Roman Abramovich and his entourage that you might expect on winning a trophy or buying an oil company. Relief? It is still a long way from the return they expected for £50m, but the last seven days for Torres have been a start.
The striker left the pitch yesterday with socks turned grey by the rain and the mud, 90 minutes under his belt and the match ball under his arm. His goal against Barcelona on Tuesday and this hat-trick against Queens Park Rangers have given the impression that there might yet be a route back to something like the form that made him the best striker in Europe four years ago.
He is still yet to score a goal that truly decides a crucial match for Chelsea. He will probably not start the FA Cup final or the Champions League final if Didier Drogba is fit. But to give Torres his due yesterday, this was much, much better. Luckily for him he was up against a QPR team that played as if relegation was an inevitability rather than, for the time being at least, just a possibility.
Torres advanced the theory after the game that his recent goalscoring had coincided with a drop in his form. "It was a different feeling I had in the past because I was feeling very good, with fitness and feeling sharp, but I could not score," Torres said. "So now to be honest I'm not playing as well as before but I'm scoring goals."
Having watched him struggle, albeit always work hard, this season it is hard to agree. Nevertheless, he has at least given Roberto Di Matteo a choice to make. Does Torres start against Newcastle on Wednesday, or against his former club Liverpool in the FA Cup final on Saturday? Or does Didier Drogba start both in Torres' place? The feeling remains that Drogba is still the man for the big games.
This was a great afternoon for Chelsea who are now in sixth place just a point behind Spurs and Newcastle. Should Di Matteo's team beat Newcastle on Wednesday then they will be two points behind Arsenal with two games to play and, at the very least, well in the running for the fourth Champions League place.
John Terry used his programme notes to apologise for his red card at the Nou Camp, and his gestures suggested the same after he scored Chelsea's second goal on 14 minutes. "I'm big enough to ... man up when I make a mistake and, clearly, I made a mistake on Tuesday," he said. "I'm sorry for that." As usual for him, it was characteristically dramatic.
At the end of the game he turned away to applaud the supporters in the Matthew Harding stand rather than walk among the QPR players proffering his hand. Not surprising given that this was a team that wholesale refused to take part in the pre-match convention in the FA Cup fourth-round tie in January
The bad feeling between the two clubs over the Anton Ferdinand incident in October, which led to the respective lawyers of the QPR defender and Terry successfully petitioning the Premier League for the cancellation of yesterday's pre-match handshake, was evident among the fans. But the game was so one-sided that after Daniel Sturridge scored Chelsea's first after 47 seconds, even the Terry-Ferdinand issue was pushed to the margins.
There were some unfortunate chants from elements in both the home and away support, and the booing of Ferdinand by some Chelsea fans was unpleasant. Of course, any abuse of that kind is too much but it was by no means the overwhelming factor of the afternoon. When it came to being overwhelmed, one needed look no further than the QPR defence.
The first goal was a brilliant strike from Sturridge, swept in with his right foot from the left side after the ball had ricocheted back off Ferdinand. Mark Hughes will have had greater cause for complaint for Terry's goal which was headed in direct from a corner over Clint Hill's weak challenge.
This QPR team have taken 11 of their 34 points away from home. They have to beat Stoke City at home on Sunday because the final game away at Manchester City looks hopeless. They were three goals behind on 19 minutes when Salomon Kalou stroked Juan Mata's pass into the stride of Torres, who went around Paddy Kenny and scored.
Joey Barton had a bad day and was fortunate that Howard Webb set the benchmark for a booking so high, although Barton got there in the end. Bobby Zamora, who has not scored in eight games, looked a long way from an England striker.
There was a misunderstanding between Nedum Onuoha and Kenny which let Torres in for the fourth goal. The excellent Mata played in Torres for his third goal on 64 minutes. The substitute Florent Malouda scored the sixth of the game from the cut-back of Ramires, another substitute, who was played in by Torres.
Djibril Cissé finished nicely for Rangers' one goal of the game by which time the sun had broken out over rainy west London, although the away team will barely have noticed.
Booked: Chelsea - none. QPR - Barton
Man of the match Torres.
Possession: Chelsea 60% QPR 40%
Attempts on target Chelsea 18 QPR 7
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).