Life has been tough for Fernando Torres over the last 14 months.
The Spanish international arrived at Chelsea for a staggering £50 million last January, despite struggling for form with Liverpool at the start of the campaign.
His difficulties stem back to a knee injury in April 2010, when ‘El Nino’ missed the end of the Premier League season to undergo surgery in an effort to be fit for the World Cup.
Vicente del Bosque still picked the striker though, and he featured in a handful of games before coming off the bench against the Netherlands in the final. Despite victory in South Africa, he appeared to struggle with the speed of play and perhaps wasn’t quite ready for a return.
He returned to England with a winners’ medal though, and was fit enough to come off the bench for Roy Hodgson’s Reds on the opening day of the season against Arsenal.
Despite scoring nine league goals in the opening five months of the campaign, Torres’ return was easily the worst of his three-and-a-half year spell at Anfield, and the Merseysiders had little choice but to accept the staggering offer from west London.
His start to life at Stamford Bridge was particularly poor. His debut came in the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool (of course), and the 28-year-old didn’t score his first goal for the club until the 3-0 win over West Ham United on April 23rd – ending a run of over 900 minutes without a goal. It was his only strike for the remainder of the campaign.
And this term hadn’t gone according to the script either under new manager Andre Villas-Boas. The former Porto boss showed faith in the former Atletico Madrid starlet, but goals were once again at a premium in all competitions.
Showing glimpses of his best away to Manchester United in September, Torres scored and then missed an own goal in the 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford. He scored again six days later against Swansea, but then got sent-off in the same game to start another slide.
A couple of Champions League goals against Genk in October suggested Torres might be able to build on his domestic brace, but instead it led to a 24 game drought for a goal which was ended against Leicester City.
The Spaniard struck twice in the 5-2 FA Cup win, delivering the goods for Roberto Di Matteo after the Italian took temporary charge a fortnight earlier.
Indeed, it is under Di Matteo that we seem to be seeing some of the old Chelsea, and with it the old Torres.
Against the Foxes in the cup, Torres created a couple of goals as well as score his own. Four days later, he again created chances for the Blues in their 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, leading the line with a positivity unseen during his period at the club.
On the bench against Tottenham in last Saturday’s 0-0 draw, the striker was introduced late in the second period during Chelsea’s worst performance under Di Matteo’s interim reign.
An immediate recall against Benfica in midweek reaped huge rewards for the club, and whilst a goal wasn’t forthcoming, the 91-cap international got a huge assist for Salomon Kalou’s goal in the 1-0 win.
With confidence high, Torres produced another fine display against Aston Villa this weekend, setting up Daniel Sturridge’s opener after his initial shot was saved before flicking on for Branislav Ivanovic’s third goal.
Better still, Torres struck on the counter attack to secure a 4-2 win against the Midlands outfit, firing low from just inside the box to beat Shay Given. It was easily his best finish for the club.
While Torres has been passing up opportunities to shoot in the Villas-Boas era, he now seems prepared to try his luck once again from within striking distance.
Selfishness is often both the best and worst trait of a striker, with Sturridge a prime example of a player who will do anything to score a goal, including not pass to a teammate who is in a better position.
But there is something to be said for a player who has confidence to keep shooting ala Sturridge, and that’s something Torres had lost as he constantly looked to get his colleagues on the scoresheet.
His cutting edge had understandably taken a knock, but if Torres finds that again – as he’s showing signs that he is – then we could be looking at a huge change in fortunes both individually and as a club.
For many, the astronomical figure paid to bring the player to the capital is yet to have any return.
But, whilst it’s getting towards almost a year-and-a-half later than planned, that might just begin to change. Don’t be surprised to see the striker add to his account in the Champions League quarter-final, second leg against Benfica on Wednesday night.