Torres central to Villas-Boas's plans despite that howler against United

Old Trafford defeat provided glimpse of new Chelsea built around striker that uses quick 'vertical passes' to attack. By Sam Wallace
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There can be no consolation for the open goal missed by Fernando Torres on Sunday at Old Trafford, especially not for a man whose reputation is of a goalscorer who scores goals from the most unpromising situations. On this occasion the reverse was the case.

In the seconds after he went around David de Gea and then failed to guide the ball into the empty net, Torres could have slipped into the footballers' default mood of blaming someone else. But the striker did not attempt to disguise his anguish.

As usual with Torres the game against Manchester United was another performance that was difficult to label, including as it did, one brilliantly taken goal, and three subsequent missed opportunities.

Once the smoke had cleared, the evidence of Sunday was that life may be changing for the £50m striker who has looked in danger of becoming the most expensive transfer folly in English football.

Chelsea played the way Torres wants them to play, and more specifically it was football played according to the principles laid down by Torres in the interview he did that caused such a stir last week. His delivery might have been indelicate – such as his characterisation of Chelsea having the "older player, who plays very slow" – but there were valid points in there.

Watch again the footage of Torres's most famous goal in the Euro 2008 final against Germany. It is the archetypal Torres goal: a ball from Xavi is played behind the German defender Philipp Lahm, who thinks Torres is behind him to his left, but a burst of pace takes Torres on to his right shoulder and with one stab of the right boot the ball is lifted neatly over the goalkeeper just as the two Germans converge on the ball.

In many respects it was not dissimilar in its creation and execution from the goal Torres scored against United on Sunday: the run in behind Phil Jones, the ball behind the defender from Nicolas Anelka and the stabbed finish, which lifted it over De Gea.

In that interview last week, Torres said: "Chelsea is, between the English teams, maybe the least English. They have a slow way of playing. [They] always have the ball [so they] make the opposition fall back easily so they leave no holes. That's because of the kind of player Chelsea has: an older player, who plays very slow, who has a lot of possession, and that's what the club is trying to change."

Those remarks struck a chord, especially in the second half of the game when Frank Lampard was replaced by Anelka, whose pass it was that played Torres in on goal. Andre Villas-Boas (left) likes to call them "vertical passes", the passes that move the ball forward quickly and through the spaces in the opposition. It was a brief glimpse of a new Chelsea with Juan Mata a critical figuree. How will Villas-Boas go from here? The second half at Old Trafford will have been, in spite of the result, a vindication of sorts for the attacking style he wants to play.

Villas-Boas has an opportunity to change this Chelsea side. The contracts of Drogba, Anelka and Florent Malouda all expire at the end of this season. You get the impression that if Villas-Boas still has the confidence of Roman Abramovich this time next year then he will be in charge of a radically different Chelsea team.

Yet at the centre of it remains the conundrum of Torres, the man around whom this new team needs to be built.

The sooner he is a success, the sooner Villas-Boas will be able to implement his changes – with or without the older generation. That is why Torres, playing well and, most importantly, scoring goals, is so crucial to Chelsea's future.