A variety of explanations have been advanced for this change, mostly involving either the arrival at Stamford Bridge of Eden Hazard or the departure of Didier Drogba.
Equally convincing, however, is the theory that Torres’ resurgence is simply another triumph of man-management for Roberto di Matteo. After all, Frank Lampard, John-Obi Mikel, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech and Salomon Kalou are others who have returned to a quality and consistency of performance that was simply not evident under Andre Villas-Boas.
The man-management argument becomes even more compelling upon consideration of
how Di Matteo chose to spend the jubilant plane journey from Munich back to
Gatwick Airport just 12 hours after
“I told Fernando I thought he was part of the future of this club,” said Di Matteo. “I like to communicate with the players and keep those communication lines open. Players thrive on confidence.
“Understandably, there’s frustration when you don’t start such a big game but ultimately we had a big success and everybody was involved in that. I was always very happy with Fernando. Towards the back end of last season he was fantastic. Maybe not scoring but being a provider.”
So far this season, Torres is both scorer and provider. And, crucially, he is playing with the demeanour of someone who knows that he has the full belief of his manager. On Saturday, he won the penalty from which Hazard put Chelsea ahead and then, with arguably his best finish since leaving Liverpool, he sealed a comfortable 2-0 victory.
That Torres, who has generally looked so bereft of confidence in a Chelsea shirt, should later attempt a back-heeled cross was an even clearer sign that his self-esteem has returned. That the sound of his name reverberated around Stamford Bridge like never before will also have done no harm.
The suspicion that it has been more mental than physical with Torres was later supported by his own brief post-match assessment.
“The confidence is back because I’m playing more,” said Torres. “When you play you have more confidence and, with the new players we have signed, the team is playing more and more attacking.”
Torres’ team-mates recognise that he will be crucial to their chances of maintaining this perfect start and again challenging for the league title. “He’s come back, started scoring goals and it’s a completely different story to when he started at the club,” said Cech, the goalkeeper.
Yet while Chelsea are now reaping the benefit of the support they have shown Torres, from the dressing-room right the way up to the owner, it is undeniable that they are also now being organised in a way that better suits his style.
Whereas Drogba was once the player who dictated Chelsea’s style, it is Hazard who has become the team’s focal point. That means more balls into feet, fewer crosses and an emphasis on passing rather than powering through opponents. As Torres suggested, Chelsea could still revert to the counter-attacking strategy that was successful in winning the Champions League but, for now, they are able to dominate inferior opponents with the sort of possession-based football that was evident on Saturday. “We can build two really different teams to play depending on the game,” said Torres.
While David Luiz and Gary Cahill were relatively untroubled defensively, one small concern is the neck injury the forced John Terry to miss Saturday’s game. He is also suspended for the Uefa Super Cup match against Atlético Madrid in Monaco on Friday and could be a doubt for England’s World Cup qualifier against Moldova the following week. Di Matteo said that “hopefully it won’t be long term”, but was unable to provide any specific timescale.
Alan Pardew is still hoping that a deal with Liverpool for Andy Carroll can be revived before the transfer window closes on Friday but, in achieving his aim of another top eight finish, the key could be resisting late interest in Tioté. “We haven’t had any calls about any of our players,” he said.