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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sports Thread #1 For 4/22/14: The 2013-14 UEFA Champions League - Semifinals Leg 1 (Atletico Madrid-Chelsea)

Pre-Game Kickaround: Fernando's Last Chance 

In a normal buildup to Champions League semifinals, the return of Fernando Torres to his former two clubs would be a story garnering frontline attention, examining in detail whether the former world class striker turned global mystery would recapture his once impeccable form.

But the events of recent days has made that intriguing tale almost as irrelevant as Pep Guardiola renewing his rivalry with Real Madrid. The David Moyes saga and Torres' own current manager, Jose Mourinho negative tales, have occupied the attention well before the Spanish striker's return to his old domiciles. In fact, Atletico manager Diego Simeone is third in line for most headlines in both the English and Espana's presses, with him now being linked to the United job despite being comfortable with his position.

Torres' anecdote though will return to the forefront this time around, as he is destined to get playing time in Chelsea's biggest week of the season against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, where results are paramount for Roman Abramovich's club. Moreover, the stakes are higher for Torres than even Mourinho or the rest of Chelsea, as both his club and country career are hanging in the balance.

It seemed midweek through this season that Torres had recaptured some of his glorious Liverpool form finally, or at least on a consistent basis, when he scored the winner at Stamford Bridge against Manchester City in October. It was a man of the match performance that saw the cutting edge the World Cup winner display in his days at Anfield.

But ever since that contest, Torres has gone back into a pedestrian role of just working hard but never striking fear in opposing centerbacks. Outside of a sterling performance on New Year's Day against Southampton, in which he recorded a goal, Torres has only scored three other times since that first Chelsea-City match. It hasn't helped that the likes of Oscar (and on occasions, both Eden Hazard and Willian) have failed to provide playmaking to the level of the departed Juan Mata to Torres, Samuel Eto'o, and Demba Ba, constant chances. Still, Torres is currently devoid of making the spectacular happen by himself, leading to his critics to vociferate to Pluto's ears how he is inadequate now for a super club.

Joining those critics has been Mourinho himself, who has not been the encouraging manager publicly that Torres requires most now. The Portuguese charismatic character, in dismissing his forward options all season, seems sometimes in glee to take hard pop shots at Torres despite the striker still having to be a choice for him. It's why a swamp deal between he and Atletico Madrid's David Costa really seems likely this summer, especially when you see the comments made by Simeone praising the former Atletico golden boy.

"With the greatest of respect to a manager who feels that about his players, Samuel Eto'o and Fernando Torres are great strikers and have shown that hundreds of times, in the Champions League, in the World Cup, and in many games," Simeone said.

"Fernando is a lad who loves this club, his club. These are his people. He always remembers us, he always keeps us in mind, he always asks after us. I think he will play and he knows that this is a huge game for us,"

Simeone knows his club, despite their high reputation in Spain, is still both strapped for money and can't compete consistently yet with both their crosstown rivals (Real Madrid) and the other member of La Liga's Big 2 (Barcelona) despite the Catalan clubs current horrors on and off the field. Until the LPF (and BBVA as a global sponsor) use common sense and force Los Blancos and the Catalan giants to share the league TV money from Gol TV and MediaPro, Atletico will be force to sell their top players for the big cash they need or face the financial problems that befall most of Spain's clubs.

So with that, Simeone knows that Torres, his former young teammate of his as the Argentine manager's playing career winded down, could be an ideal replacement for Costa. Ironically, those kind words could propel the man from Fuenlabrada to revive his top form when he require it most and backfire on Simeone's side (Brendan Rogers will take note of that). He is not only playing for where his club future will be next season, whether remaining at Chelsea, going back home to Atletico or elsewhere, but also his national team prospects.

At 30 and seemingly on the full decline, this maybe the last chance for Torres to play in a World Cup. Spain manager Vincent del Bosque is very loyal to the players who gave him historic international success and will give Torres as many chances to show he is worthy of a trip to Brazil, but the time is running out.

The emergence of Costa, the re-emergence of Fernando Llorente at Juventus this season and the semi-emergence of Athletic Bilbao's Adrian Adruiz make those frontman forward places for Spain tightly contested and never guarantee anymore for Torres as it was in years' past (and that's after the likes of Alvaro Negredo and Michu, after great starts in the Premier League, have cooled down, while David Villa has been cast deep in Costa's shadow at the Vincent Calderon this season).

This is Torres' last chance at still displaying that he is a world class talent, and the stages couldn't be bigger for him to do so. To save Chelsea's season for being trophyless, his future at a big club, and his World Cup history, Torres must shine in the places where he was once adored.

Because if he doesn't, we may never see again this once elite #9 be as sublime as is needed. But if he doesn't, those headlines will go right away from managers not having good tidings to a player having a Lazarus like revival.
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