Torres energised but Chelsea need midfield boost
Rather than considering himself a special one, new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has preached a collective approach since taking over at Stamford Bridge this summer.
He has been reluctant to talk about individual players despite constant questions about the form of Fernando Torres, and even after one of the Spaniard's best displays in a Chelsea shirt as they drew 0-0 with Stoke, the Portuguese coach was careful to praise the group.
Not that he was totally satisfied with the performance from his team, but he was content to gain a point against a Stoke defence which looked as though it had been grazing on iron filings over the summer.
Torres rode a barrage of challenges by Ryan Shawcross and also had to contend with Jonathan Woodgate, yet it was his overall sharpness and improved movement which had observers purring.
"Villas-Boas gave the green light to playing Torres up front and that would have provided a confidence boost to the striker," says Match of the Day pundit Lee Dixon. "I thought he did really well and he looked a completely different player compared to last season.
"Back then, he looked laboured, his touch was bad and he didn't have any snap in his play but from the start it looked like the real Torres had returned. Chelsea didn't have a lot of chances in the first half but he ran the line well and was under pressure from a backline which is notoriously strong."
Torres had at least one penalty claim and although he managed only three shots, it was his overall involvement which was most noticeable.
Last season with Chelsea he averaged 44 touches over 90 minutes, whereas he touched the ball 66 times in his 89 minutes at the Britannia stadium.
He also improved his distribution, managing 36 passes instead of an average of 21 over 90 minutes last term but that does not tell the whole story.
Villas-Boas spoke before the game about his overall intention to free up more spaces on the pitch and it may have been that desire which persuaded him to choose Torres over Didier Drogba.
His theory is that if you have attacking midfielders like Frank Lampard, you do not want your forwards to play too much between the lines. With Torres' improved lateral movement, the decision to select the ex-Liverpool forward looked justified.
The former Porto boss will also have noticed a slightly laboured approach from his midfield and this too can contribute to a narrowing of space in crucial areas.
With two weeks left before the transfer window closes, the temptation to sign Luka Modric may have grown and Dixon believes his inclusion in the team would also help Lampard flourish.
"John Obi Mikel's distribution can sometimes appear a bit slow and if Michael Essien was fit he probably wouldn't be in the team," Dixon says. "Chelsea have Ramires, who looks quite sharp on ball, and the midfield has support from the two full-backs Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole, who like to bomb forward.
"But sometimes it takes a while for Lampard to get into his stride from a fitness point of view. He's at an age, 33, where long term injuries can take time to get over. He will only get back to his best when he's bombing into the box, making runs and scoring goals.
"Chelsea definitely need an injection of something a bit different, maybe from someone like Modric and I'm pretty sure they will go back in for him. It will take somebody like him to relieve the creative pressure off the midfield and release Frank a little bit further forward.
"You need someone who is comfortable on the ball, who can see a pass, who can receive it in all sorts of positions and also create a bit of uncertainty in the opposition.
"Modric puts fear into midfielders or defenders so they might just drop off deeper and that could create space for the likes of Lampard or Torres. It also allows the players to make a run into a position they might not usually go, because they know the ball will arrive or he will drive into a different space. It's almost like a domino effect when a player of that ability gets on the ball.
"After the Stoke game, Villas-Boas will have learnt that there is a lot of quality in his team and that they can be in a position to challenge for honours. He will also have discovered that a creative midfield player is not necessarily there.
"But the biggest plus was the sharpness of Torres. Without being super potent in front of goal he showed huge leaps from where he was at the end of last season."