Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres. All have faced criticism throughout this World Cup, such are the standards they have set in recent years. With Rooney’s and Ronaldo’s bags now packed and both making their way out of South Africa, the spotlight is now well and truly on the Spanish striker.
Having now played four games during the tournament, El Nino still looks a yard off the pace, unsurprising when coming back from injury. Having suffered a series of niggly injuries for Liverpool throughout last season, Torres was unable to gather any real momentum in his game, with bursts of goals intertwined with weeks on the sidelines. What has made it difficult for him is that he has returned to playing during a World Cup Finals, playing at the highest standard in the game. Where in the Premier League players can at times ease back into a rhythm against perhaps some of the lesser teams and players, the World Cup is presenting Torres with much more difficult opposition.
Nevertheless, particularly in Spain’s last game against Portugal, he showed signs of signalling his arrival. A fantastic early effort that drew a good save from the keeper seemed like a sign of things to come. At other times though he seemed to be missing that confidence which is evident so often in the Premier League, understandable when things are not quite going to plan. Even the best players can suffer from dips in confidence.
I believe Torres is also struggling, in part, because of the style of David Villa and the positions he likes to take up on the pitch. He likes to drift out wide and attack from the wings, which at times, leaves Torres occupied by both central defenders. As a result he struggles to find any space and time on the ball. Villa’s style of play and mobility in the final third makes it easier for him to lose his markers and be able to profit from this extra space with goals. This may explain, to an extent, Villa’s impressive goal record for Spain, a record that even Torres, arguably the team’s main, traditional striker, can’t better.
In his current situation Torres will appreciate having such talented footballers around him. With the likes of David Villa in the side, Torres can afford to have a few average games and the team can still prosper. Compare that to England and Wayne Rooney, for example, and the difference is striking. England’s inept performances throughout mirrored those of Rooney himself, the player labeled the key to England’s hopes out of form and the team unable to find anyone else to step up to the mark. If Torres is able to regain his form then, in tandem with Villa, Spain will be hot favourites for further glory.
Is the persistent speculation regarding his future affecting his performances? This appears doubtful with any talk at this stage appearing to be mere speculation and in contrast to Gerrard’s flirtation with Chelsea in 2004, which was far more pressing and serious. Liverpool supporters may currently be torn between wanting to see one of their own players do well for their country but also worried by the ongoing debate surrounding Torres’s future. If Torres had enjoyed a fantastic tournament thus far then the worry of clubs making more forceful moves to prise him away from Anfield will have grown significantly.
Despite the focus on his game, Torres will not be unduly concerned at this stage. It was a similar pattern in Euro 2008, where David Villa exploded out of the blocks and bagged a number of goals in the early stages of the tournament. In the final however, it was El Nino who bagged the all-important goal in the final, securing hero status and his place in the history books. He will certainly be hoping for history to repeat itself this time around.
With Spain now in the quarter finals and overwhelming favourites to make it to the semi’s, this is the time when the great players make the difference. To quote an old cliché but which still rings absolutely true for players of Torres’s ilk; form is temporary, class is permanent. Don’t count out Torres just yet.
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