£50m Torres improves, but draws a blank again in 50th appearance

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Roberto di Matteo's first team selection as Chelsea's interim manager was noteworthy for being unremarkable in as much as it was the same eleven, bar one, that had been fortunate to deny Birmingham the win at Stamford Bridge that might have brought the reign of Andre Villas-Boas to an earlier end.

The Italian has made it clear that reaching fourth place in the Premier League is the priority of his stewardship. There is barely a recent Chelsea manager who has not won the FA Cup and it has kept none of them in a job.

Yet the one choice who might be of significance is Fernando Torres, (right), restored to attack for the first time since the first tie against the Championship side. It can have been only a matter of irritation to Roman Abramovich that Villas-Boas was no more able than Carlo Ancelotti to rebuild the Spaniard's broken confidence and yet having paid £50 million for the striker he expected to see him play. Last night was the former Liverpool forward's 50th game for Chelsea, which he began needing to score five times to take his goals tally during that time into double figures.

His team-mates, loyal to the man, continue to insist it will be only a matter of time before he explodes into life, but tellingly defender Branislav Ivanovic said Torres needs to "break a psychological barrier".

Never did that seem more accurate an assessment than when Torres made for himself the best chance of a first half that revealed little evidence that the removal of Villas-Boas would spark a Chelsea resurgence. It came in stoppage time, after 45 minutes when at last an attempt to turn a home defender came off, leaving Curtis Davies on the floor, but presented with the sight of goal Torres dragged his shot wide.

Chelsea's two goals in five minutes ended Birmingham's hopes, but Torres played no part in either although he did win the penalty that Juan Mata missed.

It was an improvement by Torres and perhaps an extended run might help. Maybe this latest swing of the Abramovich axe will be the pivotal moment for the largest of all his extravagances.