Chelsea Focus - Is Torres back to his best?
If Fernando Torres scored as many goals for Chelsea as he has prompted false dawns about a change in his form, then the striker would be sought after by the entirety of Europe's elite. But after an impressive burst of form, is he finally ready to live up to original expectations?
The Spaniard struck twice on Wednesday as the Blues recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Schalke at Gelsenkirchen - a result which puts them on course to finish as winners of their Champions League group. Should they secure top spot over the next three matches, it will be a great relief to manager Jose Mourinho, whose side had slumped to an opening match defeat to Basel at Stamford Bridge.
The Germans may have been swept aside on the scoreboard but it was far from the perfect performance by Chelsea, who were often wasteful in possession and rash in their decision-making. But when general play is lacklustre, it helps to have a clinical finisher leading the line.
A lack of top quality forward has been the missing piece for the Blues ever since Didier Drogba's departure in the summer of 2012. A fierce headed goal in a winning Champions League final performance - his last appearance in a Chelsea shirt - was a fitting way to not only wave goodbye to the supporters, but also emphasise his immense influence on the football club.
Torres played just six minutes of normal time and 30 minutes of extra time that night, falling way short of Drogba's inspirational demeanour and physically dominant performances. That continued into last season; the £50m man was struggling to justify his hefty price tag.
But despite his visibly languid offerings on the pitch, Torres still managed to score 22 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign, with only his 2007/08 tally of 33 for Liverpool being a more profitable season. And while he was the main man under Rafael Benitez on Merseyside, at Chelsea he's had to adjust to new systems and personnel, with attacks no longer coming solely through him.
Against Schalke, and indeed against Tottenham Hotspur prior to his domestic ban, he seemed more comfortable with that role: tracking back, holding the ball up, making clever runs and generally working his socks off for his teammates. As is often the case in football, as in life, effort pays off - and Torres' two-goal return can be deemed a pat on the back from the forces who had starved him of good fortune over the past few years.
Having said that, he's by no means anywhere near the standards of 2007/08 - and indeed, he probably never will return to those heights. What Chelsea and Jose Mourinho will be optimistic of, though, is a Fernando Torres who can chomp at the bit for longer than a few games. The last thing Chelsea - and Torres - want is another false dawn.
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