The Spanish striker would have loved a Champions League goal against Bayer Leverkusen but at least he was setting them up
For Fernando Torres this is the stage at which any small success might prove to be the pivotal moment of his Chelsea career, the click of the switch that turns on the lights. Although last night he again failed to add to the solitary goal registered since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in January, the passes he supplied for the goals by David Luiz and Juan Mata allowed him to go home with the pleasant feeling that he had pulled his weight as the London club got their Champions League campaign off to a satisfactory start.
It may have been the thought of Sunday's visit to Old Trafford, rather than Torres's reported comments about the presence of an "old and slow" player hindering Chelsea's progress, that led André Villas-Boas to consign several of his senior players to the bench last night, resting John Terry altogether and flanking Torres with Mata, his 23-year-old fellow Spaniard, and Daniel Sturridge, who celebrated his 22nd birthday at the start of the month. But the decision made Torres, at 27, the senior member of the front three for the first time since his arrival at the club. With Didier Drogba still recovering from concussion and Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou on the bench, he could hardly have asked for a better opportunity to express the qualities that have so far been kept under wraps.
Setting off as if determined to demonstrate his own energetic commitment, in the first minute he hooked José Bosingwa's cross into the crowd. Three minutes later, only seconds after Omer Toprak's header from a Leverkusen corner had been disallowed, his flick led to a backheeled effort from Raul Meireles which met the same fate.
So a turbocharged start to the contest had Torres as its protagonist, racing down the right wing to send over a good cross that brought no response and receiving a yellow card for inflicting a late and painful tackle on Simon Rolfes. In the 10th minute, however, there was a stark glimpse of the poor form that has so perplexed his coaches. He played the ball to Mata on the left and accepted the quick cut-back in an excellent position 15 yards from goal but deliberated too long before striking a shot that bounced off the legs of Bernd Leno in the Leverkusen goal.
After that all was quiet on the Torres front until Florent Malouda collected a misplaced clearance from Gonzalo Castro and fed the No9, whose stately efforts to bring the ball under control gave Stefan Reinartz ample time to intervene before a strike was forthcoming. Little more was seen of him before the interval apart from a poor shot hit well wide from long range while under no pressure.
Only Sturridge was able to induce serious palpitations in the German club's defence as he popped up late in the first half with two powerful snap-shots from outside the area. Just past the hour Villas-Boas called up the veterans, sending on Anelka for Sturridge and Frank Lampard for Meireles, which seemed like a pre-programmed move rather than a response to the actual events since a few seconds earlier Sturridge had forced Leno to touch the ball on to a post and could claim to have provided Chelsea's only genuine promise of goals to that point.
There was a discreet start to the second period for Torres until Malouda's cross from the left in the 56th minute saw him rising for a powerful header that forced Leno into a diving save. Two minutes later a promisingly slick exchange with Mata on the left ended with a looping cross that Leno punched away. A couple of minutes after the arrival of the substitutes, however, David Luiz did what he often does in an attempt to break a stalemate, making ground into the Leverkusen half, feeding Malouda out wide and running on as the Frenchman played the ball inside to Torres, who stunned the ball into the centre-back's path, inviting an emphatic shot inside Leno's left- hand post.
From Mata there was plenty of graft but not much evidence that he can provide the element of fresh thinking which Chelsea sorely need to add to their power and experience. Until, that is, Torres drove at speed through the Leverkusen defence in injury time before squaring the ball to his unmarked compatriot, who finished with brusque efficiency.
At Chelsea's training ground they have been analysing Torres's performances in his best periods for Liverpool and Spain, comparing them with his displays since his move to London and concluding that, since technically there is little detectable difference, the problem with their £50m forward must be one of confidence. While not providing a definitive verdict, last night will have done his state of mind no harm at all.