The bleached blond look recently returned for a while – in the hope, you imagined, that he could rediscover the lustrous power which had made him into El Nino, a legend on the Anfield Road. Now the golden locks have gone and the flat brown hair which Fernando Torres wears in their place provides a sense of the ascetic spirit which possesses him.
These are still straitened times for Torres. The fact that he has ended the goal drought which stalked him through 24 long games is only the beginning of a road to redemption, because everywhere you look there is still evidence of how he and Chelsea have added up to failure this season.
Before last night, Torres had started in two winning Premier League games for the club that he joined in search of silver – and none since 14 January. And there are distractions wherever he looks. One of the suited brigade from the game's sponsors wanting to shake hands as they left the field was probably something he could have done without. At Anfield, this was a time of the game when he always liked to enter his own capsule of contemplation.
For a brief time last night, there was evidence that the change of guard in the manager's office has changed him, too. There was the brief old zip of pace which used to strike fear into defenders and the once common image of a defender – Micah Richards in this case – back-pedalling towards goal, eyes fixated on the ball at Torres' feet – as he ran at him. Torres rolled the ball into the feet of Juan Mata, a yard to his right, and the goal yawned wide. The chance Mata spurned would be Chelsea's best of the match.
The makeshift central defence Torres was presented with last night might have been holding up, with Richards as its ballast, but the fault line looked to be the left flank in which Mata threatened and Torres buzzed nearby. All too much for Pablo Zabaleta, you sensed. For a player with an uncluttered mind, these might have seemed like grounds for much encouragement .
But the Torres psyche is more convoluted than that. The times were legion during his last season at Liverpool when, perhaps tactically isolated, perhaps the only player capable of dragging Rafael Benitez's side into the light, Torres felt an insufferable weight of responsibility. It became too much and he would be sucked into a mood of pent-up frustration.
It was perhaps the kick at his heel from Zabaleta, midway through the first half, which started this last night. It stung, he hobbled, and then there was another tussle, with Richards, from which he leapt up, animated. His team-mates began to have the same effect. Torres wrung his hands with frustration and pointed to the place in the penalty area where Ramires might have laid a ball back for him rather than shoot.
In his pomp at Liverpool, the threat Torres would pose in a position like that would scream "Pass!" to his teammates. Now there was only Torres, screaming the word into the night.
Yaya Touré joined his list of foes – the two left the field in hot conversation at half-time – and even Roberto di Matteo. Roman Abramovich has told Di Matteo that he wants his £50m signing in the starting ine-up but whatever the manager said to that player near the touchline towards the end of the first half, Torres did not agree with it.
The Touré conversation was continuing at the start of a second half in which Torres' only meaningful contribution was the leap in the area with that player which provided the loose ball for Gary Cahill to score. Di Matteo instigated the hand-slap when he called Torres in on 72 minutes but the manager had to man-handle him around in search of some eye contact and did not actually succeed in getting any.
The unravelling of Torres' career is sad to behold, and it's hard to know where the road will take him now. Perhaps all the way home to Fuenlabrada, the Madrideleno suburb he calls home, and Atletico Madrid – where they do understand him.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Liverpool FC
- Manchester City
- Micah Richards
- Premier League
- Rafael Benitez
- Stephen Carter