x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Toil and trouble for Fernando Torres

Problems up front for both Chelsea and Liverpool, who have had issues since the striker's January transfer. They meet today at Stamford Bridge

The acquisition of Fernando Torres, centre, cost Chelsea Dh288.5 million, but the Spaniard has only scored a goal every seven appearances for the London club. Andre Villas-Boas, the manager, however, has publicly defended him, saying, ‘of course he is worth the money’.
The acquisition of Fernando Torres, centre, cost Chelsea Dh288.5 million, but the Spaniard has only scored a goal every seven appearances for the London club. Andre Villas-Boas, the manager, however, has publicly defended him, saying, ‘of course he is worth the money’.

Ten months have passed since the extraordinary bout of attempted problem-solving that took Fernando Torres to west London and £50 million (Dh288.5m) to Merseyside.

Tired of the Spaniard's truculence and painfully aware of his failing physique, Liverpool believed they had exorcised an issue of their own while securing capital to rebuild the team.

Chelsea's title defence badly becalmed, Roman Abramovich envisaged Torres as its reinvigoration. The striker's form would lift with his mood, those elegantly long-limbed finishes framed in blue as the billionaire's team was restored to its expected station.

Expectation can be a terrible thing.

"Nothing to do with us," was Kenny Dalglish's tart retort to queries about Torres as the two traders readied to reconvene today. The forward has had his own say, muttering darkly about Liverpool supporters not knowing "the real story" of his transfer while pointedly praising the manager who brought him to Anfield. "No one understood me like him," Torres said of Rafa Benitez.

Certainly not Andre Villas-Boas, who appears exasperated by the almost perpetual need to publicly defend Torres. "Of course he is worth the money," the Chelsea manager said during Friday's inquisition, before trying to find a way round a return, on Abramovich's investment, of one goal every seven appearances.

"He is one of the best assisters at the club," Villas-Boas said, ignoring Premier League statistics that are yet to credit Torres with a final pass this season.

More telling was the manager's explanation of why he had preferred Daniel Sturridge at centre forward two weeks before at Blackburn Rovers: "To try to get more runs in behind at pace." In theory, that is where the £50m man is meant to be at his strongest.

The truth is that Torres is a problem Villas-Boas could do without; one of several significant figures at Chelsea who have yet to respond well to his management.

There is no question that the Portuguese knew what he was getting into when he accepted Abramovich's late invitation to replace Carlo Ancelotti last summer. He had been in the Russian's employ before.

There may, though, have been an overconfidence. Gearing Porto up to an unprecedented treble in Portugal in his debut season was a spectacular achievement. He arrived at Chelsea aware that Abramovich expected silverware, a change in playing style and a restructuring of an ageing, politically powerful squad.

Quite a remit for anyone starting just their second campaign as a top-tier coach - one made easier to accept after the year that had come before.

Expectations are an issue at Anfield, as well.

As Dalglish gained control of transfer spending and a re-energised team pushed up the table at the beginning of the season, a 2011 Champions League qualification seemed a possibility. In the end, Liverpool missed out on both forms of European football, yet still there was talk of a potential title challenge in the present campaign.

Already 15 points astern of Manchester City and with a worrying tendency to shed home points, that can be forgotten. Dalglish has not been helped by the almost constant absence of Steven Gerrard, whose body has succumbed to one injury after another.

Ridding the club of Torres in the final hours of the January window was a piece of transfer-market brilliance that avoided the forward undergoing a full medical and drove the fee to record levels. The bounty, however, has been questionably spent.

Dalglish's distrust of overseas imports contributed to some £35m of it being immediately handed to Newcastle United for Andy Carroll, a striker whose lifestyle problems have warranted public censure even from the England manager.

Investing more than the balance in Jordan Henderson five months later has been similarly unproductive. Further millions were expended on moving Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky out of the dressing room through subsidised loans or substantial pay-offs.

Liverpool's expensively restructured team have yet to find their rhythm, the dividend still to be delivered in points.

In November, as in January, Chelsea meet Liverpool with both seeking solutions to problems. And Torres still poses more to his manager than opposing defences.

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