As a man so superstitious he did not cut his hair on one goalscoring run, perhaps Fernando Torres will feel the need to persevere with that protective mask of his even when his broken nose has healed.
He scored two goals last night, the second of which was critical for Chelsea who had conceded a precious away goal to their Russian opponents and needed the comfort of a two-goal winning margin for the away leg of this quarter-final in Moscow next week. It does not mean, of course, that Torres will keep his place in the team for Sunday.
Torres is Chelsea’s striker for Europe, the man who was bought to give the club the edge in the Champions League but was on the bench the night they eventually won it. Now, with Demba Ba cup-tied for the Europa League, he is pretty much Rafael Benitez’s only option and last night he delivered.
Without wishing to disparage a man who had a rough old time of it in the last two years, it has been rare that one has been able to say that about Chelsea’s £50m striker. Last night he out-jumped the Rubin Kazan defence in the 70th minute and planted his header past the goalkeeper in the way Didier Drogba once did at Stamford Bridge.
That takes his total to 18 for the season, including the Community Shield, which puts him level with Juan Mata as joint top goalscorer at the club. It could be worse. As for Chelsea they will be frustrated at the goal they conceded, a soft penalty awarded against John Terry by the Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi.
For Benitez, it was obvious that Torres’ performance improved with the confidence that first goal brought. “It’s true, we always talk about strikers having to score goals so their confidence is there,” he said. “You could see that with Fernando. From the beginning I had no doubts with his work-rate or movement, but you could see his touch of the ball was much better after the goal because of the confidence he had.”
Of course that does not mean he will stay in the side for the visit of Sunderland in the Premier League on Sunday. “You have to think about it, but the problem we have is that Demba Ba can’t play in the Europa League, so we have to manage both,” Benitez said. “Demba scored the other day, so it’s a tough decision.”
And will the mask stay on while Torres keeps on scoring? “He may have to do that anyway,” Benitez said. “Maybe he can score with or without the mask.”
The visit of Paolo Di Canio and Sunderland will be the third game at the stadium in the space of eight days. The fun never stops under Benitez and his three-pronged assault on the Champions League places, the FA Cup and the Europa League. Of the three English sides left in Europe it is Chelsea who are the best placed to make the semi-finals.
The interim first-team coach made six changes from the side that knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup on Sunday, with the likes of Terry and Frank Lampard returning to the team and a start for Yossi Benayoun, his first since 7 March and only his third of the season. Then there are those whom Benitez cannot afford to play without.
They include Mata, making his 45th start of the season, the most of any outfield player in the squad. Petr Cech, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires were the four others who kept their places in the side from Sunday. It was Torres who scored the first on 16 minutes.
It was a goal that just about told the story of his time at Chelsea with the difference that this particular episode had a happy ending. Luiz saw a hole in the Kazan back line and struck a nice ball through the gap which Torres ran on to ahead of Roman Sharonov before making a mess of his first touch. He and Sharonov went to ground, the ball broke free and Torres stuck out a leg to poke it in.
In the old days he would have taken the ball out of the air on his toe and needed one more touch to drill it past the goalkeeper. But those were the old days and these days he will take whatever he can get.
He did indeed look more confident after that, even essaying one of those crosses struck with the right foot coming round the back of the standing left foot to hit the ball. He had a part in the second goal too, retrieving the ball after the Rubin goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov had saved Victor Moses’ header from Azpilicueta’s cross. When Rubin twice failed to clear Torres’s shot it fell to Moses who chested it down and dispatched the ball into the top corner.
The 46 away fans – the official figure – finally had something to cheer five minutes before half-time. Terry was unfortunate to be judged to have handled Cristian Ansaldi’s shot even though his arms were low when it struck him. The Israeli international Bebras Natcho scored the penalty.
Eden Hazard and then Oscar came from the substitutes’ bench. Torres scored his second with 20 minutes left. It was Torres’s lay-off to Lampard which allowed the Englishman to play the ball out left to Mata and it was Mata who picked out Torres nicely for the header.
“People were saying he wasn’t scoring ... but he has scored goals, and I’m sure he will score some more,” Benitez said. Indeed, Torres has scored goals, 30 now in his Chelsea career which is, unfortunately, when all is said and done, still too few.
Booked: Chelsea Terry, Benayoun. Rubin Kazan Orbaiz.
Man of the match Torres.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Chelsea 55%. Rubin Kazan 45%.
Attempts on target: Chelsea 7. Rubin Kazan 5.
Referee G Rocchi (It).
* Second leg Thu 11 Apr, Luzhniki Stadium.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Frank Lampard
- Jose Mourinho
- Premier League
- Sunderland FC
- UEFA Champions League
- Yossi Benayoun