Fernando Torres declined the opportunity to end his goalscoring drought on Tuesday, but his performance has earned the praise of a rival Premier League manager.
2-0 up with a little more than 20 minutes left on the clock, Chelsea were sailing into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup when they were awarded a penalty at Birmingham City. Juan Mata, who opened the scoring at St Andrews, was happy to listen to the travelling fans who were urging Torres to step up and end his barren spell in front of goal. But despite being presented with such an opportunity, the former Liverpool striker declined, and instead left it for his compatriot who saw his shot saved by Colin Doyle.
Torres has now gone 23 consecutive appearances without a goal; a run which has resulted in his recent exclusion from the Spanish national squad. With Euro 2012 just around the corner, the 27-year-old needs to rediscover his golden touch sharpish, or he faces missing out on a tournament his goal won four years ago. That he could be left out of Vincent del Bosque’s plans show how far he has fallen in recent times, especially when you take into account David Villa’s absence through injury.
So what has gone wrong for a player who was so deadly during his time at Anfield? His reluctance to step up to the plate against Birmingham is an example of his lack of confidence, and maybe this, together with his previous injury problems, is the biggest factor which is contributing towards a meagre return of just three Premier League goals in 36 appearances for his new club (during his first season in England, he played 33 times for Liverpool and scored 24 goals).
Ardent Torres supporters will argue that he is still contributing elsewhere on the pitch, and he stands below just Mata, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in the table of assists for the Blues. But by the same token, his tally of four doesn’t get him in the top thirty in the overall list of Premier League goal creators. Tony Pulis, though, was in attendance at Birmingham on Tuesday, and he believes the Spaniard is still offering plenty to the Londoners cause despite his failures in front of goal.
“I went to Birmingham and watched him the other night and I thought he did absolutely fantastically,” said the Stoke City manager, who takes his side to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. “I thought he worked his socks off and that his movement was brilliant. He just needs a little bit of luck in front of goal. His attitude was fantastic.”
Maybe that bit of luck he needs in front of goal would have presented itself had he taken that penalty in the Midlands. He may also have missed, of course, but it is hard to see how his confidence can possibly get any lower than it currently stands. Alan Shearer, who rarely lacked the stuff during a goal filled career for Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and England, believes that Torres can still get back to his best, but may have to leave Chelsea to stand such a chance.
“It’s baffling. I’m pretty sure the ability is still there but his confidence is obviously at an all-time low,” the Match of the Day pundit told the Daily Star. “Sometimes you need to help yourself in those situations and he’s not by not taking penalties. It baffles me – why not? I was very, very surprised he didn’t take it. I was amazed. I hope he gets back to what he was – but it might take a move away from Chelsea to do it.”
Should Roman Abramovich file Torres alongside Andrey Shevchenko, Adrian Mutu and Mateja Kezman in the summer, the chances of the Russian recouping the £50million he paid in January 2011 are akin to that of John Terry holding aloft the Premier League title in May. Unless Stoke City become the next club to be the benefactors of an overseas billionaire and Pulis is given full access to the cheque book, that is…
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