Chelsea 1 Wigan 0: Blues scrape ugly win but Fernando Torres draws a blank

09 April 2011 10:03
Roman Abramovich sat in his private box, staring down on the efforts of the team assembled by the power of his purse. It is said that the oligarch has spent the best part of ?1billion on Chelsea, and ?50million of that was invested in Fernando Torres.

Now nobody is ever quite sure what Abramovich is thinking, since his habitual expression is that of an empty dinner plate. But it is safe to assume that if Torres was one of his custom-built yachts, then Roman might be having a word with the designer.

Now that the prospect of a Premier League title has receded over the horizon, the chief interest at Stamford Bridge is the persistent inability of Torres to deliver the goals for which he was bought.

At last: Florent Malouda makes the breakthrough for Chelsea against Wigan

Everyconversation revolves around the man with the gauntly worried face, even when he spends most of the match on the bench, as he did against Wigan.For such an improbable fee, wonders are expected. Yet the more theman tries, the more abjectly he fails.

Hisability is not in question and his temperament has been tested on far bigger stages. But it will not happen for him. Once again, chances came,and once again his efforts only drew the best from an opposing goalkeeper.

Indeed, his most effective contribution in the view of the Wigan manager Roberto Martinez was the elbow he allegedly planted in the face of that same keeper, Ali Al-Habsi, to allow Florent Malouda to score the decisive goal in the 67th minute.

Timewas when Chelsea would use games with Wigan as a kind of therapy. Last season, they poured 14 goals past them, eight at home and six away. Here, they were thankful for that single success.

Theyworked with appropriate persistence, and in Didier Drogba they could offer a striker at the top of his game; brutally strong and endlessly resourceful. But Wigan worked as hard or harder, they defended rigorously and their heads just refused to drop.

Martinez was 'extremely proud'. He believed that Howard Webb made his biggest mistake on the biggest call of the match. The manager assured his listeners that he was '100 per cent sure' of Wigan's Premier League survival and, in truth, you could understand his optimism.

Fortheir part, Chelsea can carry little optimism into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford. Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged an indifferent performance, which he conceded would be wholly inadequate against Manchester United.

Hestrives to maintain essential confidence, but the prospect of awholly unrewarding season is hanging over him, blankly unpromising, like the expression on the face of his employer.

Importantplayers, other than Torres, did not meet his standards. Ashley Cole wasuntypically indecisive, Nicolas Anelka was at his most infuriating, while Frank Lampard never came to terms with the match, never imposed his authority on midfield proceedings.

Going close: Chelsea's Fernando Torres (right) has a shot on goal

An early goal might have yielded more promising results, and Malouda should have taken the chancehe was given by Drogba in the eighth minute. But the shot was struck atthe keeper and from then on, Wigan simply raised their workrate and backed their own spirited organisation.

Thechances fell almost exclusively to Chelsea, but they were spasmodic andtardily attempted. Yossi Benayoun was brought on for John Obi Mikel at the start of the second half and his energetic runninglifted the tone and authority of Chelsea's play.

But Wigan maintained that diligent defence, and through the playmaking efforts of Ben Watson, theyyieldednothing of note in midfield. Torres made his entrance, to surprising acclaim, in the 58th minute and Chelsea did what they could to constructthe chance he must eventually take.

Butwhen the goal came it was scrappy and untidy. A right-wing corner from Drogba put the keeper under pressure. Torres may or may not have deployed a cunning elbow, as Martinez claimed. But the ball ran loose inthe six-yard box, was beaten out a time or two then fell to Malouda, whose flailing hack squeezed it across the line.

Scramble: Chelsea's Fernando Torres (R) challenge with Wigan's Ali Al-Habsi (2nd R)

A couple of Torres runs lit up the rest of the match; the first involved a foot race with Antolin Alcaraz and a futile drive, the second, arranged by Benayoun, was perfectly driven and saved with thefingertips of Al-Habsi.

TheChelsea crowd was remarkably understanding, although their patience might have been tested had Wigan managed to convert their late half-chances. If Torres should score an important goal at Old Trafford, then all will be forgiven. But at the moment, it seems a distant prospect.

And the patience of Roman Abramovich is not without limit.

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Source: Daily_Mail