Fernando Torres is great – as a defender, says Benitez
Chelsea boss pays tribute to struggling striker, but damns him with faint praise
AS PANTOMIME season continues at Chelsea, Fernando Torres could be forgiven for thinking that Rafa Benitez is turning out to be yet another ugly sister rather than his fairy godmother after the new Stamford Bridge manager waxed lyrical to the press about the £50m striker's talents... as a defender.
Benitez faced the usual questions about Torres, who has not scored in the Premier League for more than 12-and-a-quarter hours, ahead of the Blues' Champions League clash with Nordsjaelland tonight.
And he came up with a novel answer when he was asked if the Spanish striker, who has managed 19 goals in 90 appearances for Chelsea, was worth his place in the team. Rather than mention work rate in front of goal, the manager focused on his skills as a defender at corners.
"He was amazing [in the 3-1 loss to West Ham]," said Benitez. "Two or three times he’s cleared the ball and afterwards he was marking man to man because it’s what he had to do... So he’s helping the team, in this case, to defend."
The comments were greeted by incredulity in some quarters. "Damned with the faintest of praise," concluded Paul Kelso in The Daily Telegraph.
"It is a sign of how far Torres has fallen from the gilded heights of 2008 that Benitez, the manager who knows him better than any, was forced to scour his defensive highlights to find a source of praise."
Whether his tactic works or not remains to be seen. "Benitez's response was either ingenious or desperate, depending on the knock-on effect of his words on Torres's fragile confidence," wrote Matt Hughes in The Times.
"With Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo all suffering as a result of their failure to revive Torres, Benitez is prepared to go to any lengths to talk him up, no matter how bizarre."
But, no matter how good his defending, that is not what Roman Abramovich was paying for when he forked out £50m in January 2011, pointed out Sam Wallace in The Independent. "Didier Drogba was a master of the clearing header when Chelsea were defending headers, but he put a few away at the other end too," he added.
The Daily Mail noted that although Torres does have good defensive credentials and has won 91 per cent of his tackles so far this season, he needs to find the net tonight. Chelsea must beat Danish minnows Nordsjaelland and hope that other results go their way if they are to avoid becoming the first Champions League winners to go out in the group stages. ·