By Chris Myson
Fernando Torres may still be a long way from achieving redemption but his match-winning display in the victory over Sunderland was a significant step forward for a man who looks like he has less than a month to save his Chelsea career.
If there is ever going to be a time when the former Liverpool striker can recapture some of his form, confidence and swagger of old then it needs to be now.
After two goals against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League, Torres was even more impressive at the Stadium of Light, scoring twice, creating another and looking a different player to the depressed, lonesome figure who we have seen over recent weeks.
It took just 11 minutes for him to open the scoring for Chelsea on Saturday. An accurate cross from Eden Hazard was met instinctively, the forward nailing his timing of a marvellous volley into the top corner.
Just before half-time he had his second, although it was not the type of goal to which we have become used to him scoring since he first arrived in the Premier League from Atletico Madrid.
He was not trusted as a penalty taker in the Champions League final in May and indeed has never shown much determination to take a spot kick in his time in England. But, after Ramires was fouled by Sebastian Larsson, Torres grabbed the ball and calmly slotted it away.
It was a moment that suggested two things – that Torres' confidence may be returning and that he is aware how pivotal it is for him to start delivering at this stage of his Blues career.
It could have even been a hat-trick had his brilliant left-footed shot not cannoned off the underside of the bar, allowing compatriot Juan Mata to slot home the rebound and effectively end the game as a contest.
With the January transfer now just weeks away, the £50 million man will be fully aware of rumours that he could be sold and the club's continued pursuit of Colombia sensation Radamel Falcao in the transfer market.
Time is running out for Torres, although his man-of-the-match performance suggests that there could still be hope for him, particularly with Rafa Benitez now in charge at Stamford Bridge.
It is clear that the striker needs a number of things in order to be successful. He wants to be the main man, a status helped by the departure of Didier Drogba – a striker with whom he never properly co-existed – in the summer.
He needs an arm round him and a figure who believes in him, which he now has in Benitez, and, while he has numerous improvements to make to his own game, he also needs better support and service from his team-mates, which did arrive from the likes of Hazard, Mata and Victor Moses in the 3-1 victory.
It is fair to point out that Torres had been on a decent series of performances at the start of the season before his most recent goal drought, a poor run in front of goal that coincided with the team's drop in form, which ultimately – and harshly – cost Roberto Di Matteo his job.
He now has 11 goals to his name this season; four of those having come within the last week. With potentially two games to play in Japan for the Club World Cup and domestic clashes against Leeds United, Aston Villa, Norwich City and Everton still to come in 2012, it is possible that he could enter the New Year with a more than respectable tally in front of goal.
It is clear, though, that Torres knows that it is a case of acting now or never to save his Chelsea career and stop himself from being remembered as one of the Premier League's biggest transfer flops.
This week has been a positive step in the right direction although, with his feagile confidence still being rebuilt, it is vital that the attitude and positivity which he displayed against Sunderland remain a facet of his game in the coming weeks.
For the first time in recent memory we have seen glimpses of the Torres of old. It is now up to him to make sure the tide turns permanently in his favour. If he doesn't, his chances to do so will soon run out.
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