By Wayne Veysey at Stamford Bridge
On the face of it, Fernando Torres' contribution for Chelsea against against Bayer Leverkusen was admirable.
He set up both goals, astutely teeing up David Luiz for the opener and unselfishly side footing to Juan Mata for the decisive second in added time.
The Spaniard was not merely the assist-meister either, on an evening when Chelsea had to dig deep against impressive opponents to clinch victory. He worked his socks off, his movement was sharp enough to manufacture some good positions and there were signs of a growing partnership with Mata, the club's marquee summer signing.
He could go home safe in the knowledge that he had played an integral role in his team winning an important match.
But - and there is seemingly always a 'but' with Torres these days - did he do enough at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night in conjunction with his performances in Andre Villas-Boas' previous four matches as Chelsea manager to justify a position in the starting XI against Manchester United on Sunday?
It will be a question that will not merely perplex Villas-Boas over the coming days, but Chelsea supporters, too. There is a huge amount of goodwill at Stamford Bridge for the Spaniard despite a miserable record of one goal in 23 appearances since his £50 million switch from Liverpool in January.
|TORRES vs LEVERKUSEN
| FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY
|90'+2||GOAL! Brilliant from Chelsea and the man who is under so much pressure, Fernando Torres. He skips past a defender to find himself one-on-one with the keeper but unselfishly chooses to forgo a shot and lay the ball into the path of Juan Mata who cannot miss.|
|F FROM OUR PLAYER RATINGS
|6.0||Better, but still a long way from the Torres of old. Took up some good positions but was unconvincing whenever he ran at Leverkusen's defence and never looked like opening his account for the season.|
Torres might complain about the age and speed of some of his accomplices but there is no lack of love from the natives. Everyone associated with the club, from Roman Abramovich downwards, is desperate for the pivotal moment that will ignite his career in a blue jersey. Yet, like a dormant volcano, the damage he can cause is potential rather than actual.
The problem with Torres, it seems, is psychological rather than physical. Chelsea staff have compared the player's workrate for the club with his output in his best periods for Liverpool and Spain, and concluded that, since technically there is little detectable difference, the problem with the forward must be one of confidence. Excuses about injuries or post-tournament exhaustion are no longer valid.
Take Tuesday night: Torres' movement and football awareness was sharp enough to find space against smart defenders, but too often he deliberated rather than seized the moment.
Upon finding himself in the first half with room to run with the ball from a position just outside the box, he took four touches before running the ball out of play. At his peak, he would have taken one touch and had a shot at goal.
The senior member of Chelsea's front three - he was flanked either side by Mata and Daniel Sturridge - appeared ponderous compared to the lively Englishman, who is making a compelling case to be a regular member of the team. The instinct, the spontaneity, the desire to try something even if it might not come off, has deserted him.
By comparison, Sturridge went close in the first half with two violently struck shots from distance with his preferred left foot and had a close-range effort bundled on to the post after the break.
To general astomishment, it was Sturridge who was replaced by Nicolas Anelka at the hour mark as part of a dual substitution that also introduced Frank Lampard to the fray. Torres has had to get used to the No.9 being held aloft on the touchline but he had a stay of execution this time.
It smacked of a political decision rather than one based on the events of the previous hour. Although Torres' contribution to both goals was noteworthy, it is worth asking this question about the second goal: would a confident, fully firing Torres have rejected the chance to shoot when one-on-one with the keeper? Almost certainly not.
Therein lies the rub. If Torres does not think he is capable of scoring, why should anyone else expect him to?
Chelsea cannot afford to field a centre-forward against the high-flying champions at Old Trafford who does not carry a genuine goal threat. With the resources at Villas-Boas' disposal, the manager does not need to, even if Didier Drogba is likely to miss out once again at the weekend with concussion.
The Portuguese does not require Torres to reinvent himself. He has other players with greater touch, vision and dribbling skills. The striker's job is to score.
But, after his excellent display against Stoke City on the opening day of the season proved to be a false dawn, Torres has reverted to the shadow of the player he once was.
Villas-Boas has shown already that he is not afraid of biting the bullet. Time to do so again.
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