It was not the debate Chelsea wanted in the run-up to the defence of their Champions League title but once all the fuss about who shook whose hand on Saturday afternoon had died down the form of Fernando Torres became a talking point again. Ten minutes from the end of a disappointing derby he sloped off down the tunnel, having completed a 50th Premier League appearance for the club with nine goals to his name; in the equivalent period at Liverpool his haul was 33.
Apart from one early run into the penalty area, when he was denied by the home team's excellent new goalkeeper Julio Cesar, there was little about the Spaniard's performance to suggest renewed confidence, as his hangdog expression on leaving the pitch confirmed.
Ahead of an opening game at home to Juventus on Wednesday, the manager Roberto di Matteo was clearly not going to admit to any doubts about his man or the lack of alternatives to him – Daniel Sturridge, the late substitute being the only one now that Didier Drogba has headed to the China seas. "He played his part in the game," Di Matteo said. "We're looking for other players to score goals as well."
Unfortunately, Eden Hazard, asked to do that as well as being the Premier League's leading provider of assists, found Cesar keen to make an impression on his debut, and then wasted the clear opening set up for him by Chelsea's brightest spark, the substitute Victor Moses.
After the match Ryan Nelsen, the experienced Queen's Park Rangers centre-back, could have reprised that footballer's trick of looking in his pocket and telling Torres to come out now, but the New Zealander seems too nice a man; nice enough to have exchanged shirts with Ashley Cole, whom Anton Ferdinand appears to have declared a pariah for supporting John Terry in the dispute that began in the corresponding fixture 11 long months ago. "Fernando has had a few over me in his career," Nelsen admitted modestly.
He was less convincing in turning a blind eye to having had Terry in a more literal stranglehold during one tussle in the penalty area, and suggesting that the Chelsea captain simply "fell over". But the incident could not detract from a commanding performance, all the more impressive given that Nelsen only arrived back from a New Zealand World Cup tie in Auckland late on Thursday.
He was well supported by Ferdinand until his partner suffered a hamstring strain late in the game. "With all the unnecessary pressure that was put on him, him and his family have had to go through so much," Nelsen said. "But to put in a performance with all that pressure on him like he did today showed the character of the man. We tried not to bring it up, and keep it out of his mind by concentrating on the game, but that would have been extremely hard with everybody going on about it."
The one surprising aspect of the pre-match posturing was that Park Ji-sung – a less obvious choice of captain than Nelsen, who did the job for Mark Hughes at Blackburn – also ignored Terry.
"It's really tough for everybody," Nelsen said. "The Premier League wanted it to carry on. Anton just said, 'This is my personal thing and whatever you guys do, do it.' I don't think anybody in Anton's situation would have done it [shaken Terry's hand]."
Any bad feeling was not carried over into the 90 minutes and, for all the animosity from both sets of supporters, the actual football was probably played in as good a spirit as could be expected in the circumstances. It was just short on quality.
Juve preserve perfect start
Juventus will travel to London for Wednesday's Champions League trip to Chelsea with another three points under their belts after a late turnaround gave them a 3-1 Serie A victory at Genoa yesterday. Ciro Immobile gave the home side the interval lead, firing past Gianluigi Buffon after 18 minutes following a one-two with Andrea Bertolacci. Antonio Conte's side were fortunate not to fall further behind before the break, but recovered in the second half, goals from Emanuele Giaccherini, Mirko Vucinic and Kwadwo Asamoah, from the penalty spot, giving the defending champions their third win from three league matches this season. They have now gone 42 league matches without defeat.
Booked: Chelsea Bertrand, Ramires.
Man of the match Nelsen.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).
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