Torres, much-maligned since joining Chelsea from Liverpool in January, showed some fleeting touches of class, particularly linking with Ramires to create the opening goal and later Raul Meireles as the midfielder struck the upright, but it was largely another night of indecision and ineptitude for the Spanish international. With his rhythm interrupted by the red card handed out against Swansea City, coming after Torres had scored against Manchester United and the Welsh side, it could be another long wait before the striker rediscovers the scoring touch against a higher class of opposition than Genk provided at Stamford Bridge, when Torres nabbed a brace.
On their own ground Genk proved a more difficult proposition for Chelsea as a whole and Torres as an individual. But Chelsea did not help themselves. Their play for a lot of the tie was stilted and, although dominant in possession, Chelsea rarely put their hosts under the kind of pressure that causes average sides buoyed by a raucous home crowd to crumble. One way in which to force an inevitable breakthrough is to pepper the opposition goal with shots, forcing the goalkeeper into save after save and exerting him mentally as well as physically. In this respect Chelsea, with seven attempts on target but 10 off target, failed and Torres in particular failed more than most, registering only two shots all game and both off target.
Sturridge, in contrast, managed one shot during his half-an-hour cameo and found the target with it. The former Manchester City striker also almost matched Torres’s assist when he combined with Frank Lampard to present a glaring sight on goal that the midfielder wasted. It was an altogether more effective showing by Sturridge than Torres, producing as he did much slicker football and worrying the Genk defence with greater conviction than his more illustrious teammate. Even taking into account the tiredness of the Genk defence, having played for an hour by the time Sturridge was introduced, it was an impressive showing on a night when Chelsea were distinctly moribund.
But Sturridge had to affect the game from wide of the penalty area as Villas-Boas persisted with Torres through the middle, rather than withdrawing the Spaniard and using Sturridge in his stead. The Portuguese’s intransigence could be credited with breathing life into Torres earlier in the season and therefore worth attempting again against Genk. With another round of Champions League fixtures to go Chelsea were not in a must-win situation in Belgium, but there comes a point when Villas-Boas’s stubbornness is more negative than positive. Consigning Sturridge to a wide role when Torres is flailing centrally helps neither and certainly not the team.
With Torres’s continued patchy form, Didier Drogba’s fall from past glories and Nicolas Anelka’s expiring contract, this period may be merely the prelude to Sturridge’s starring role.