Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fernando Torres is back - maybe

When Fernando Torres stared down the open net and missed his second goal, even the hardened Manchester United fans felt for the man. Personally, as a dyed-in-the-wool United man who fears Chelsea's money and squad, I'm not sure I've ever felt more sympathy for an opposition player in a moment of struggle.

Certain sections of the Old Trafford stands jeered, but for a player who has tormented United while playing for their greatest rival and threatens to do likewise for another, the reception was hardly vitriolic. The enormity of such a one-off was obvious. The most outgoing commentators were left speechless.

After showing signs he was back to his best throughout - including a much-vaunted first goal since February - Fernando Torres' may have hit his lowest point for some time with his stunning with a freak miss.

His self-confidence has already been shaken - certainly his body language at Liverpool and at times for the Blues has been intermittently downtrodden. He has looked markedly better this term, buoyed by the freshness coming from a summer off and the Samson-like return of his blonde highlights and alice-band. Perhaps new teammates and coaching staff have paid dividends.

It was not a freak out, a brain-fart or choke, but one of those moments where something - anything - goes awry and a "given" becomes far less so. He - and Chelsea - deserved another goal as he began to look more and more the Torres of old, wending his way around and through United defenders. Looking at the replay again and again, he didn't pull out on the shot, lose balance or even have time to think.

Perhaps the greatest criticism that could be levelled at him for the miss was that he wasn't aware of just how much time he had, leading to a rushed shot. As any coach will tell you, when a player is five games into the season, results are less important than process - and the process he completed to get into scoring positions on Sunday was outstanding. Though Chelsea failed their first big test of the season, coach Villas-Boas has much to be encouraged about.

Unfortunately, Sunday's game will be remembered for his miss rather than his prior goal, or pace and wonderful shimmy around the stranded De Gea. We remember end results - spectacular or horrifying - which makes football the most highlight-friendly sport in the world. But such highlights tell only a modicum of the whole story.

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