Hat-trick striker played with the air of a man who had never missed a chance in his life
It is easier to play like Barcelona when you are not actually playing against them. There was a festive air about a sodden Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and Queens Park Rangers proved the perfect opponents against whom to celebrate a triumphant passage to the European Cup final last Tuesday. Going four goals up inside 25 minutes, it was as though Chelsea had come home to show their fans that, in the right circumstances, they can turn on the style as well as anyone.
The man who delivered the coup de grâce to Barcelona in the Camp Nou walked away with the ball and the man‑of‑the‑match award. While his team‑mates' concentration inevitably wavered after the early avalanche of goals, Fernando Torres was magnificent for the whole 90 minutes, his hat-trick – a genuine one, with goals three, four and five, and the first of his career at Chelsea – giving the club an idea of what they can expect when Didier Drogba finally leaves the premises.
Amusingly, Torres insisted afterwards that he is not playing as well now as he was when he was not scoring regularly. But since Roman Abramovich shelled out £50m for his goals, this haul represented a satisfactory return. It took the Spaniard into double figures in all competitions since his arrival at the Bridge 15 months ago, seven of them coming since the end of a five-month dry spell that lasted from October to March.
The manner in which he took his goals in this west London derby suggested that he is more than capable of building on the confidence engendered by that dramatic breakaway effort in Catalunya. His opener against QPR, to put his side 3-0 up in the 19th minute, came from a slick move in which he fed Juan Mata and raced forward as his compatriot transferred the ball to Salomon Kalou. Torres arrived in the right place to collect the Ivorian's excellent pass before doing to Paddy Kenny almost exactly what he had done to Victor Valdés last Tuesday.
His second, six minutes later, represented a piece of high-class opportunism, and he hooked in the loose ball after a mix‑up between Kenny and Nedum Onuoha with the air of a man who has never missed a chance in his life. He had to wait until the 64th minute for the completion of his scoring for the day, timing his sprint down the inside left channel on to Mata's pass quite beautifully before smoothly measuring a shot inside the far post.
Chelsea certainly dominated the conditions, probably the most difficult experienced at the Bridge since José Mourinho shamefully attempted to nullify Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona a few years ago by persuading the groundsman to prepare a pitch that resembled a potato patch. This time the club's management had nothing to do with it. Incessant rain had produced a surface so waterlogged that in the early minutes Djibril Cissé, sliding on the seat of his pants as he delivered a cross from the left, disappeared inside a plume of water, leaving only the bleached rectangle on the top of his head – which appeared to be the consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding with a Brazilian waxing specialist – visible above the spray.
Torres played no part in the goal with which Daniel Sturridge got Chelsea off to a flying start after 45 seconds, or the one with which John Terry doubled the lead with a header from Mata's corner a dozen minutes later. But the sixth and last goal summed up his willingness to involve himself to the benefit of his team‑mates as he acted as a pivot, exchanging passes with Ramires, whose cut-back from the right was deflected by Anton Ferdinand into the path of Florent Malouda. Torres had been doing that sort of thing all afternoon, and in a sense his three goals were a reward for all the unselfish foraging and linking.
He did enough, in fact, to suggest that Vicente del Bosque may be inclined to look at him in a more positive light when considering his starting lineup for Spain's opening match of the Euro 2012 finals against Italy on 10 June. Torres has not scored for his country since a double against Liechtenstein in September 2010, but on Sunday he started to look once again like the man to give a cutting edge to the midfield maestros to whom he and his Chelsea team‑mates brought such dismay last week.