x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chelsea striker Fernando Torres relishes his Italian job

The forward can draw inspiration ahead of Chelsea's Champions League clash with Juventus from his performances against Italian opposition.

Gianluigi Buffon and Fernando Torres will meet again tonight, four years after this meeting at Euro 2008. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Gianluigi Buffon and Fernando Torres will meet again tonight, four years after this meeting at Euro 2008. Clive Mason / Getty Images

One of the most vivid and evocative football photographs of the last few years was taken at Euro 2008. It captures a split second in the quarter-final between Spain and Italy, not a moment with the ball in play but a click of the shutters just after a moment of high tension.

Italy's goalkeeper Gigi Buffon has just made a save from Spain's Fernando Torres. The picture has Buffon, relieved at his decisive action, clasping his gloved hands around the face of Torres, their foreheads touching, two professionals acknowledging the emotional intensity of their duel and some mutual respect.

Torres is smiling. That in itself dates the photograph. He was at a career peak in the summer 2008, a successful first Premier League season with Liverpool under his belt, a key role in delivering Spain's triumph in those European championships - he would score the winner in the 1-0 victory against Germany in the final - establishing his legend in his native country.

In the last two years, photographers have found it harder to snap ecstatic grins on the face of the former prodigy. Since January 2011 Torres has carried the label of the most expensive centre-forward in English football history like a knapsack full of bricks.

He was frowning last Saturday, as he marched off the pitch, substituted, after a frustrating afternoon in Chelsea's 0-0 draw at QPR.

Although the £50 million (Dh298m) Torres has scored twice in four matches in the Premier League this term, a far better rate than his six goals in 32 games in 2011/12, he is still under scrutiny, with Chelsea keenly seeking signs that he might one day return, consistently, to his dazzling best.

Italian opposition, in the form of Buffon's Juventus in the Champions League, might just stimulate his finest instincts. Scroll through Torres's career highlights, and they often show him outwitting Italian defences, be it for Liverpool against Inter Milan, five seasons ago in Europe - "with a succession of long balls played over the back of the defence, I beat Marco Materazzi for pace and both times he got yellow cards," he recalls in his autobiography - or for Spain against the Azzurri.

Torres scored and set up a goal, even in his brief time on the field as a late substitute in Spain's 4-0 victory over Italy in the final of Euro 2012 two and half months ago. A pair of the defenders he outfoxed, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, are Juve men.

Their club colleague, Giorgio Chiellini, started that final. Had Torres watched Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini struggle to contain strikers chasing balls over the top of them during Juve's match at Genoa on Sunday, he ought to have smiled.

If Torres finds the bursts of pace that used to characterise his football, he will trouble the Italian champions.

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