Tis the season to be jolly, tis the season when domestic and European football seasons begin to take shape.
December, and in particular the Christmas period is generally looked upon as where potential champions emerge and relegation candidates come to the fore. A busier period this season than in previous years, due in part as this is a World Cup year; before we all make our New Year’s resolutions and take on Arsenal at the Emirates on January 3rd, Chelsea will have played NINE matches; seven league fixtures, the final Champions League group match and the Quarter Final of the Carabao Cup against Bournemouth.
Now, which ever way you cut it, that is a lot of football to be played in the space of 31 days – three matches every nine days (quick maths) – the argument that these are highly paid professional athletes is an understandable, but even so that is a lot of high-level sport to be played, under the biggest amount of pressure, no matter how much you earn, and no doubt the debate surrounding a winter break will resurface in the pre match press conferences come the hustle and bustle of December.
Quite how Antonio Conte will juggle the demands of the fixture list remains to be seen, and if the Swansea fixture and the starting line up is to be viewed, then squad management is going to be a crucial element, and with rumours of a big spend in the January transfer window to lighten the load of a threadbare squad, this will be an interesting period of the season to say the least.
So the second match of December, following the recent league win over Newcastle, is the final group stage match of the Champions League against Atletico Madrid and the return of a few familiar faces.
Felipe Luis and Fernando Torres return to Stamford Bridge, and it is the latter who Chelsea supporters have a special place in their hearts for.
Hall Of Fame, this week takes a look back at the Stamford Bridge career of El Nino.
Fernando Torres – 2011-2015 – Appearances 117 – Goals 46
Having been linked with Chelsea back in 2003 when Roman Abramovich first purchased Chelsea Football Club, Abramovich finally signed his man on the last day of the 2011 January transfer window.
Having seen a £40million bid rejected by Liverpool, Torres handed in an official transfer request to push through a move to West London, having become disillusioned with life in Liverpool. Having seen the decline of the club under then owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Torres had severe doubts about the ambitions of the club and where his future lies, and further talks with then Director of Football confirmed the Spaniard’s fears: “Comolli told me that the new owners (FSG), they had an idea of how to spend their investment” Torres stated. “They wanted to bring in younger players, to build something new. I was thinking to myself, this could take two, three, four or even maybe ten years. I didn’t have that time. I was 27 and did not have time to wait. I wanted to win.”
So on 31st January 2011, Fernando Torres signed for a new British transfer record of £50 million, thus becoming the most expensive Spaniard in history and the sixth most expensive footballer of all time.
Ironically, and as fate would have it, Fernando Torres made his Chelsea debut against none other than – yep you guessed it – Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, to say he got a hostile reception from the away end is an understatement, quite why Torres was painted as a scapegoat is unfair to him, he was coming into his peak years, and could see no trophies on the horizon making their way to Anfield – that Liverpool lot do love burning a club shirt when the mood suits them.
Torres, like most players joining a new club midway through the season, found the going a little on the rough side, finding the net only once, against West Ham on a damp squib of a pitch at Stamford Bridge.
In his first full season with Chelsea, Torres would find something he came to London searching for, trophies.
He started the season as first choice striker for newly appointed manager Andre Villas Boas, while all the time looking sharp, linking up the play well and making those intelligent runs of his, he found it hard for the one thing that had come so easy to him since breaking through at Madrid at the tender age of 17 – goals.
He scored only his second goal for the Blues at Old Trafford in a 3-1 defeat, but it is was his miss that day that made all the headlines. Again after the finding the net, something else cropped up which took the headlines away from his goal, this time against Swansea City, ten minutes after his goal, a two-footed challenge on Swansea player Mark Gower resulted in a straight red card (his first in English football) and a three-match domestic ban – Torres couldn’t catch a break.
No matter the lack of goals, Chelsea supporters could see the effort El Nino was putting in on the pitch, and would offer their support whenever he was in Chelsea Blue.
Fernando Torres’ finest hour(s) in a Chelsea shirt were still come, and the first of these moments would come when returning to Spain, and in particular the Camp Nou.
With the tension building on a highly charged evening in Barcelona, Chelsea found themselves back in the Champions League Semi Final, having seemingly been in an almost impossible situation – 2-0 down in the Nou Camp, a Ramires goal gave Chelsea an all important away goal, but it was back to the wall stuff as Barcelona were unrelenting in their pursuit of back to back finals; wave after wave of attack as Chelsea were camped for almost all of the second half in their own penalty area, but Fernando Torres had other ideas – after coming on as a substitute for Didier Drogba, Torres had fresh legs to keep Barcelona at bay, but after yet another defensive clearance, Torres found himself all alone, with only the Spring Barcelona breeze and Victor Valdes in his way.
For a man whose confidence, supposedly shot to pieces from his perceived lack of goals, he finished with all the aplomb of a man who had scored 40 goals in 40 games previously – Torres rounded Valdes like he wasn’t there and slid the ball into the empty Barcelona net, an instant cult hero was born, the frustrating 12 months that had gone before were forgotten in an instant, Torres had fired Chelsea into their second Champions League Final in four years.
Torres, like in the Semi Final, started on the bench, coming on instantly after Bayern Munich had taken the lead, Chelsea were in need of an equaliser and another striker alongside Didier Drogba was only going to help matters – Torres helped win the only corner of the game for Chelsea as Drogba struck in the 88th minute to level the match.
While his contribution to the cause was only in open play – Torres didn’t take a penalty in the shootout – it doesn’t go unnoticed among the Chelsea faithful that Torres did play a part, like everyone else in the side that night, and the Champions League trophy alongside the FA Cup, gave the Spaniard yet more silverware to add to an ever-growing trophy cabinet – Torres had achieved the goal he set out to achieve when making the controversial move to Stamford Bridge – winning silverware.
The following season saw yet another trophy added to his cabinet, but also saw him working under a different manager – Torres had worked under three in 18 months at Chelsea – this time a familiar face, a face which enraged Chelsea supporters, one Rafael Benitez, one of the reasons suggested at the time for Benitez’s appointment was to get the best out of Torres as it had worked so well when Torres first joined Liverpool.
It did seem to have an effect on El Nino, as Torres scored two goals in Chelsea 6-1 hammering of Nordsjaelland and followed that up three days later with another brace, this time in a 3-1 victory away at Sunderland.
In April 2013 Torres opened up about the struggles he had been enduring at Stamford Bridge saying ‘I want to do the same things I used to do, I did them at Madrid, I did them at Liverpool but I am not doing them at Chelsea’ but he vowed to ‘try his heart’ out to regain his best form – during his struggles, Torres always had the backing of the Chelsea faithful.
His second finest hour came in yet another European final – this time the Uefa Europa League Final against Benfica.
Torres opened the scoring in a dramatic 2-1 victory for Chelsea, with his goal in an earlier round of the Europa League against Steaua Bucharest, Fernando Torres became the first player to score in SEVEN different competitions in one season.
Torres did start the season under Jose Mourinho, scoring in the Super Cup defeat to Bayern Munich with a stunning strike and scoring further goals in the Champions League.
At the start of the following season, 2015/16, it was clear that, with the arrival of Diego Costa, Torres’s chances would be limited and with that El Nino was on his way to Milan, and after a rather unsuccessful time in Italy, his boyhood club Atletico answered his prayers and took him back to Spain.
While his time at Stamford Bridge wasn’t littered with goals, due to in part arriving at SW6 only 80% of the player he was when he first arrived on these shores, down to two serious injuries, his time will be looked upon fondly, despite the lack of goals, his endeavour to play his part for the side could not be questioned; he cut a forlorn figure at times, but he was always supported and for all of his struggles, he set out to achieve what he wanted when he arrived in West London, he went back to Spain with a suitcase full of winners medals.
Thank you for the memories Fernando.
So after Atletico, the Champions League can be put to one side until February, and Antonio Conte can concentrate on domestic matters.
With Newcastle brushed aside to make it six wins in seven league games since losing to Crystal Palace, it is on to another London Derby in West Ham at the Olympic stadium, while no inroads have been made in Manchester City just yet, City’s last three performances have given Chelsea and the chasing pack a slight glimmer into their weaknesses, from now until the New Year, there is no room for errors if that lead is to be clawed at.
Maybe another former Blue can take two points off City come Sunday – over to you Jose.