Will the real Torres stand up

Where is the talent who scored the only goal for Spain to win the 2008 European Championship and in 2009-2010 was the most popular name on replica Premier League shirts sold across the globe? The season may only just have begun but the future of new Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas, hinges on him coming up with the answer to that question. By Frank Malley.

Where is the real Fernando Torres?

Where is the striker who became the fastest Liverpool player in history to score 50 league goals and little more than 18 months ago was destroying English Premier League defences and being hailed as the top goal-scorer in world football?

Where is the talent who scored the only goal for Spain to win the 2008 European Championship and in 2009-2010 was the most popular name on replica Premier League shirts sold across the globe?

The season may only just have begun but the future of new Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas, hinges on him coming up with the answer to that question.

The signs were encouraging. Torres looked lively in a goalless draw against Stoke. He looked more at ease in Chelsea's preferred 4-3-3 formation than he did last season when he scored just once in 18 matches following his GBP50 million move from Anfield.

Yet he did not score. He did not make the difference his phenomenal price tag demands. With each match which goes by without him rippling the back of the net the pressure will mount.

It is the trickiest of situations for a 33-year-old manager in the first throes of his rookie season in the world's most high-profile league.

It is not as if Villas-Boas does not have striking options. He has Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka snorting their frustration on the sidelines while Daniel Sturridge, the English youngster who impressed on loan at Bolton last season, is desperate to prove his worth.

He has Romelu Lukaku and Salomon Kalu. There is no shortage of would-be goal grabbers.

Yet every time Villas-Boas comes to pen his team sheet a neon sign with 50 million pound characters must dance across his mind. Considering Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich clearly sanctioned Torres' purchase he would not be human if it didn't.

Naturally, Villas-Boas has tried to play down the Torres situation.

“I don't want to turn Torres into an obsession,” he has said and in an ideal world the new boss deserves at least half a dozen competitive matches unfettered by pressure to appraise his favoured combination.

The Premier League, however, does not work like that, but here's a thought. Perhaps Chelsea need to look wider. The key component in making their 4-3-3 formation work is the wide men either side of the central striker.

The stark fact is that since they sold Arjen Robben and Damien Duff and Joe Cole Chelsea have not replaced their out-and-out wingers. They have plenty of players who can lead the line, others such as Anelka and Malouda who can play as the second striker, but when it comes to wide men who can provide regular, high-grade ammunition for the centre forward they struggle.

So often at Stamford Bridge over the past few seasons they have relied on the physical might of Drogba overpowering defenders. They have relied on strikers making their own goals and on Frank Lampard arriving with uncanny timing from midfield.

If Torres is to fulfil his GBP50 million promise, however, Villas-Boas must restore the balance between the goal-makers and the goal-takers. Right now Torres is like a shiny new washing machine which lights up the kitchen but fails to get your clothes clean. He has to get down to the dirty work.

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