He did score a hat trick, his only one for Chelsea, last season against Queens Park Rangers. He also scored and won a penalty kick in a 2-0 league defeat of Newcastle early this season. But, all told, Torres’ highlight reel of match-defining goals for Chelsea is a disturbingly short movie, not a feature film. He has never been the consistent game changer for Chelsea it badly needs now that Didier Drogba, who so often was the difference for the Blues, is playing his final years in Shanghai, China.
By not starting Torres against Juventus, fielding him for just 20 fruitless minutes when the Italians were already ahead 2-0, Di Matteo made clear that his patience was gone. That’s not what he actually said, of course. But faced with the choice of starting Torres or playing with no recognized striker, Di Matteo chose the latter.
For Torres, that verdict could hardly have been more damning. Without a trusted scorer like Drogba was, like Robin van Persie is for Man United or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Paris Saint-Germain, Di Matteo’s team had no one to aim for up front on Tuesday night.
Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar, none of them strikers but handed the job of scoring against Juventus, are plenty quick and crafty but were too small to pose any true physical challenge to the Italian defense. They disappeared like Smurfs amid the giants in black and white jerseys.
There has been ample amateur psychology about Torres, about how his big price tag overburdened him with expectations and that he only needs time, a string of confidence-restoring games and a playing system that suits him to rediscover the goal scorer within, the scorer he was at Liverpool.
Enough is enough.
Di Matteo, not the mistake, is gone. He couldn’t turn Abramovich’s expensive purchase into a feared match winner.
But neither will the new guy, Rafa Benitez.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester