Fernando Torres’ form last season had many Chelsea fans dreading the departure of their FA Cup and Champions League hero Didier Drogba.
In fact, there were serious doubts over whether the Spaniard would ever return to anything like his best after 18 months of indifferent form.
While they have not been eased completely, the early signs from this season have suggested the marauding forward that made defences quake when he was turning and running at them could be on his way back.
A few voices at the time floated the idea that the Ivorian’s move to Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua could actually set Torres free from the mental shackles that were restricting the former Liverpool favourite.
Those for the latter appear to have it, though form can disappear as quickly as it appears, especially for a psyche like Torres’, which has been fragile for some time.
The £50million striker was up front about the confidence issues he was having during an interview given earlier this month, claiming he was even becoming afraid of being brought off the bench.
“At times I was thinking, ‘I will sit here on the bench, I won’t make any noise, I don’t even want to play’,” he said.
This revelation should not come as too great as surprise to many, as Torres has moved into a situation he had never experienced previously; he wasn’t top dog.
Stamford Bridge was Drogba’s domain, he was a leviathan personality and it is understandable that Torres may have found it hard to settle when almost everyone at Chelsea bowed down to his direct rival for a starting place.
It appears as if Drogba was confident of his superiority as well when he claimed that next season would be the one to lead the Blues to glory.
“We have a good relationship. We don't understand why we didn't play together more, but that's the past. Torres is the future,” he said at the end of last season.
“It's been difficult for him, but he has showed he is the man. Next season is going to be his season.”
Those words could be viewed as throwaway lip service, but they may also indicate a belief in Drogba that nobody was going to rule the roost while he was at the club and that Torres would have to wait if he wanted to taste the limelight.
While it is difficult to know comprehensively, early evidence suggests this appears to be the case and Torres’ attitude in front of goal has changed palpably.
His first time bullet finish against Newcastle was a case in point – there was none of the hesitation of last season, no nervous extra touch, just a confident first-time hit into the roof od the net from the edge of the area.
He was helped by a terrific lay-off from new signing Eden Hazard, who has been very impressive in his early appearances in the blue shirt.
The introduction of Hazard could well have a lot to do with Torres’ turnaround – not exactly a shocker when a striker looks in better form shortly after a quality provider arrives.
‘El Nino’ is not exactly back to his best, but the changing landscape at Chelsea appears to be favouring him and continuous improvement now feels likely.
Everyone at Chelsea will be relieved that Torres looks to be moving towards filling the Drogba shaped hole at Stamford Bridge.
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