14 June 2012

Is Fernando Torres Spain's Key Man Once More?

When 'El Nino' ended Spain's 2010 World Cup campaign without a goal he was well below top scorer David Villa in the pecking order and was shot of confidence. What followed was just as bad for Torres as he  left Liverpool that January for Chelsea in a £50m move in search for trophies. Nothing much good happened for him however, as he scored just once in his first 18 appearances. At Liverpool and Atletico Madrid before he had always been the focal point of his side's attack and as a result struggled to fit into Chelsea's preferred 4-3-3 formation. 

As the 2011-12 season progressed it started to seem as though there was no way back for Torres as he went on a 24-game goal drought and was dropped from the Spain squad for the first time since 2005. Chelsea were also performing badly as a team and there seemed no hope of winning the trophies that he joined the club for. When manager Andre Villas-Boas was sacked with Chelsea 3-1 down in their Last 16 Champions League tie with Napoli there looked to be no way back. 

However Torres has been gradually improving game in, game out and new Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo must receive credit for helping rejuvenate him. Two goals against Leicester City in an FA Cup tie ended his goalless run and his late game-sealing goal against Barcelona vastly improved his self-belief. A first Chelsea hat-trick against Queens Park Rangers showed that he was starting to hit top form again. After the high of winning the FA Cup and Champions League double with Chelsea Torres was named in Vincent Del Bosque's 23-man squad for the 2012 European Championships. 

Today Spain's number nine showed what he is made of with an excellent man-of-the-match display against the Republic of Ireland. His runs behind the Irish defence were like the player of old and added to his two clinical finishes this was arguably his best performance since 2010. With David Villa injured and Del Bosque opting to leave Cesc Fabregas on the bench this was the 28-year-old's time to shine; and he took the opportunity with both hands. 

Torres will now be expected to start Spain's final group game against Croatia on Monday and if he continues where he left off this evening he will be hard to stop. The Irish team he faced are no mugs and on a 14-match unbeaten run going into these finals but he made their defence look like a non-league outfit. If Torres carries on playing like this for the rest of the tournament then it will be an even harder task than it already was for anyone to stop Spain lifting a third consecutive major title. 

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