Fernando Torres will decide the Premier League title race
Forget Aguero and Van Persie, Rooney or Tevez, it’s the form of Chelsea’s much-maligned Spanish striker that’s the key to this season’s battle for silverware
After Fernando Torres scored his first league goal of the season in Chelsea's victory over Reading, Iain Spragg argues that the Spanish striker's form will decide the destiny of the title.
I felt for Fernando Torres on Wednesday night. Another disaffected, disjointed display improbably seemed to have been transformed with his 81st-minute strike against Reading at the Bridge, albeit courtesy of the largesse of the linesman, and the Spaniard was finally poised to lay claim to have scored his first 'winner' for the Blues.
And then Branislav Ivanovic rudely stole the headlines by scoring a fourth for Roberto di Matteo’s side.
It was meat and drink to Torres’ critics. He doesn’t, they argue, score the really important goals these days.
"However Torres has struggled, he remains the key to this season’s Premier League"
Torres may have finished as Euro 2012's joint top scorer but two goals in the group stage demolition of the Republic of Ireland and the third in the final against an outclassed Italy in Kiev were merely window dressing, while his breakaway effort against Barcelona in last season's second leg of the Champions League semi-final was the icing on the cake and not the sponge.
Torres' last hat-trick came in a 6-1 demolition of QPR in April, a game in which the Blues were rarely required to get out of second gear. His frustratingly infrequent goals, the critics insist, have been the hors d’oeuvres and never the main course since he traded Merseyside for the bright lights of London.
It's true it's been a while since the £50m man struck in anger and singlehandedly won a match. It was, in fact, in November 2010 for Liverpool in the Premier League against his current employers but however Torres has struggled, he remains the key to this season’s Premier League.
"Chelsea have stolen a march on their rivals this summer with the signings of Oscar, Hazard and Marin, but a side hoping to be champions needs at least one striker to make a significant contribution"
Many are predicting a domestic duopoly between the two Manchester rivals. Will RVP and Rooney outgun Aguero, Tevez and Balotelli? They’re forgetting the Torres factor.
And, perversely, it’s all about the midfield. United and City have far more strength in depth up front than Chelsea but the Blues have stolen a march on their rivals this summer with the signings of Oscar, Hazard and Marin, supplementing the guile of Mata.
Add in to the mix the warrior caste of Meireles, Lampard, Mikel and Ramires and Roberto di Matteo’s side can confidently claim the most potent and complete midfield in the division.
And yet no side can win the title with a mercurial midfield alone. Spain may have achieved it over six games at Euro 2012 but over the course of 38 Premier League fixtures, a side hoping to be champions needs at least one striker to make a significant contribution.
"Can Torres tip the title balance in the Blues’ favour by rewinding the clock and reprising his form of three seasons ago?"
Sturridge may come again for Chelsea despite his form and his Euro 2012 prospects disappearing alarmingly in the second half of last season but the spotlight and the burden of west London expectation inevitably shifts back to Torres.
Chelsea look assured of getting a generous return of goals from their midfield. United and City, equally, will be confident that their glut of strikers will earn their collective corn by finding the back of the net on demand.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Chelsea defence and with United’s ominous back four injury concerns and City’s very public anxiety to bolster their own rearguard resources, you could argue that di Matteo is in the driving seat.
The question is, can Torres tip the balance in the Blues’ favour by rewinding the clock and reprising his form of three seasons ago? If he can, the widely-predicted two-horse title race could actually become a one-horse procession.
Iain Spragg is a writer, author and Spurs fan. Follow him on Twitter @angryspraggy
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