Bad Torres v Good Torres: the battle for the soul of Britain’s most expensive-ever footballer continues. For today at least, you can chalk it up as a victory for Good Torres, but it was not as if we did not see a glimpse of the dark side too.
Fernando Torres’ 90th minute winner was the dramatic conclusion to a game that was drifting to a draw and it meant that he left the pitch to the sound of his own name being chanted over and again, not always the way during his time at the club. For periods of this game he was superb, not least when he made Chelsea’s first goal for Andre Schurrle and then when he prodded in the winner after Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic’s miscommunication in defence.
But there can be no ignoring it, that moment in the 29th minute which precipitated a familiar sense of dread around Stamford Bridge. The miss. The moment when Bad Torres took over and conspired to volley a perfectly decent chance over the bar from eight yards out. That is how it goes with Torres, the light and the dark, the certainty and the indecision. The Torres that embarks on those barnstorming runs and then the blank-eyed, just-lashed-it-over-the-bar, Torres.
For Jose Mourinho, this was a major result, one of those that, over the course of the season, might just prove decisive. His team are still second, two points behind Arsenal, but they have their first major scalp of the season against one of the title contenders. That was why Mourinho celebrated by climbing into the supporters behind the benches in search of his son Jose junior, he said later, who has been allocated a season ticket behind the away dug-out.
Manuel Pellegrini did not take kindly to that, although given his team’s three away defeats already this season, you might argue that he has bigger things to worry about. Having played well in the second half, and with a useful draw in the bag, City threw it all away in the final minute with a goal very similar to the winner scored against them by Andreas Weimann in the defeat to Aston Villa last month.
Willian, a substitute, played a long ball over the top, Hart ran out to get to the ball and, just as he thought he had reached it, Nastasic headed it past him. Torres still had some work to do to beat Martin Demichelis to clip the ball in, but by then the blame was already being dished out.
This being Hart, he will cop it more than any other and Pellegrini’s refusal even to discuss his goalkeeper or the incident is probably not a good sign for the Englishman. Yes, Hart came out quickly and left his area but Nastasic also showed a lack of awareness about the man behind him. Hart has made some bad mistakes in the recent past, but this was not the worst of them, however much it might have cost City.
Afterwards, Pellegrini would concede only that he was tired of his team conceding “stupid points” and expressed himself content with all aspects of his team’s performance apart from their defending. “Keeper’s, f****** keeper’s,” Hart said as he trudged back to get the ball out the net, but there is no knowing what he said in those critical moments when he came out to try to claim Willian’s ball over the top.
It leaves City in seventh place with as many defeats in the league – three – as their Mancunian neighbours, United, and only one place better off. Nevertheless, City look a much more coherent threat in attack than United and much will hinge on whether Pellegrini meant “arrange” or “re-arrange” when it came to his plans for his defence.
He gave a debut to Demichelis at the heart of City’s defence, once again prompting the question what it is that Joleon Lescott has to do to get a game these days. He was not even on the bench. As an introduction to life in the Premier League, they come no rougher than playing against Torres in this form.
Not until the half hour did it really come alive when Torres incredibly missed from Ramires’ cross from the right which he chested down and then conspired to volley over the bar from about eight yards out with only Hart to beat. The two goals against Schalke last week mask the fact that today’s winner was only his second league goal of the year. He is never going back to be the Torres of 2007-2009 again, the question is, what can he salvage?
Within minutes of the miss he was magnificent, dominating Gael Clichy with a powerful run down the right flank that took him past the City left-back easily and into a position by the goal-line where he could pick out Schurrle for a finish just yards from the line. Feeling the love from the Chelsea support he left Demichelis trailing in his wake on 37 minutes in a run down the opposite channel, the left, and hit a shot across Hart that struck the join of post and bar.
Chelsea conceded four minutes after the break, a superb finish from Sergio Aguero who ran down the left, picked up Samir Nasri’s ball and blasted it past Petr Cech at his near post. He hit it hard enough that the Chelsea goalkeeper never adjusted in time.
After that, City imposed themselves more on the game. Javi Garcia, who operated in front of the City back four, had a free header from a David Silva free-kick from the left which he might have done better with. After the hour, Cech was obliged to save from Aguero with his feet when the striker found space again on the left side to get a shot away.
Mourinho ended the game with Torres and Samuel Eto’o on the pitch, the latter his third substitution. The Chelsea manager had become steadily more aggrieved with Howard Webb’s decisions, including the referee’s refusal to give a penalty for what looked a trip by Pablo Zabaleta on Eden Hazard.
Neither team wanted to lose the game, Mourinho claimed later. While Ramires was Chelsea’s most exceptional all-round performer, it was Torres’ instincts that took him into the right places to win the game. Euphoria engulfed Chelsea’s No 9, although recent history tells us that there is no telling what he will produce next.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, Terry 7, Cole 6; Ramires 8, Lampard 6 (Mikel 6, 66); Hazard 6 (Eto’o, 84), Oscar 5, Schurrle 6 (Willian, 66); Torres 8.
Substitutes not used: Schwarzer (gk), Luiz, Mata, Azpilicueta.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Hart 5; Zabaleta 5, Demichelis 5, Nastasic 5, Clichy 5; Garcia 6 (Kolarov, 80); Nasri 7 (Navas, 70), Y Toure 6, Fernandinho 6, Silva 7; Aguero 7 (Negredo, 86).
Substitutes not used: Pantilimon (gk), Richards, Milner, Dzeko.
Booked Chelsea Lampard, Ramires Manchester City Zabaleta, Nastasic, Garcia
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire)
Man of the match: Ramires
Attendance: 41, 865