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
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, for Torres, 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. For some of them it is an instantaneous reaction. Even Wayne Rooney turned his attentions to examining the turf in the aftermath of his penalty miss in the same game. But the Chelsea striker saw the moment for what it was – his own fault – and 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. The first two came in quick succession in the 72nd minute, one saved by De Gea, the second hit over the bar but the original opening was created by Torres beating Michael Carrick and then Phil Jones. Even the key miss, 11 minutes later was preceded by a clever little bit of skill to take him past De Gea.
Once the smoke had cleared, the evidence on 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 history.
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 while on international duty with Spain 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 other 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 whose instinct, like all goalkeepers, is to go low.
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 now."
Whether the Torres of 2011 with two goals in 24 games for the club, as his record stands now, was in a position to make those kind of remarks is debatable. But they 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 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 figure in the whole ensemble. 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. There may be a consensus that Lampard is fading but where else will Chelsea get those 20 goals a season that he scored for seven consecutive years before his injury-hit 2010-11 season? Can Villas-Boas leave out Didier Drogba when he comes back from the effects of that concussion against Norwich?
Unlike his predecessors who have managed the club since Mourinho, 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. Lampard, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech all have one more season at the club beyond this one. Of the old guard, only John Terry is contracted as far as 2014. 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. Only Cech made himself available to speak after Sunday's game and he probably had the worst view of Torres's miss. "Unfortunately, I don't know what happened, but he didn't score that," he said. "But he created a lot and his movement was there. You can see it. I'm not worried about it at all. He will score goals.
"Everybody counts the goals a striker gets. It's always like that. But if you look at Dimitar Berbatov, for example, he went to United not only because he scores goals but because he created 30 every season for Tottenham. That's why they got him to Old Trafford. With Fernando it's the same. He scores goals, as he showed, but he can create them as well. Ideally, of course, you want your strikers to score. But if they can create two goals every game, then who cares how many they score?"
Who cares? Certainly in those moments after he failed to guide the ball into the empty United net, Torres looked like he cared very much. 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.
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