AVB defends Torres, talks title hopes
Andre Villas-Boas had nothing but praise for Fernando Torres, despite watching Chelsea's £50m man fluff his first Premier League start for almost two months. Torres's latest goal drought grew to ten matches yesterday as the Blues drew 1-1 in their west London derby against Fulham in what was another blow to their increasingly remote title hopes.
The game at Stamford Bridge must have seemed the perfect time to give Torres a chance to play himself back into form, ahead of Didier Drogba's January departure for CAF Africa Nations Cup duty. But after some positive early signs, including a volley the striker was unlucky to hit straight at David Stockdale, the 27-year-old looked as lost as he had ever done in a Chelsea shirt.
Villas-Boas pointed out the Spaniard had set up Juan Mata's opener, neglecting to mention that was only because he had miscontrolled Ashley Cole's cross. Explaining Torres's recall, the Chelsea manager said: "We decided to bring Fernando in.
"He's been working well and he had an impact in the game. He worked well for the team, assisted Mata for his goal, and showed the level of commitment he has shown in training."
"We don't judge our strikers on the score. We are one of the most attacking teams in the country. We have a lot of goals spread out among the team. What is important is that they make an impact. That is what we expect from them."
Villas-Boas all but conceded the title yesterday, something which might have been the cue for Torres to be given a run in the side without fear of it proving too costly. But Chelsea simply cannot afford to keep throwing away points because they are suddenly back in a real battle to finish in the top four, with Arsenal knowing a win against Wolverhampton Wanderers today would lift them above their London rivals.
Billionaire Blues owner Roman Abramovich may yet forgive Villas-Boas not winning the title this season, but he is unlikely to tolerate failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
"The difference between us and the top will be big," the Portuguese said. "We had reduced it to seven points recently, but 13 points would be new for us. With City and United continuing to get the points they are getting at the moment, it'll be difficult.
"That is the perspective we have to make at the moment. It's difficult. It's not impossible. You cannot say that.
"But we have to focus on our position at the moment and make a real assessment. Maybe the Premier League [title] is over for us at the moment."
Fulham boss Martin Jol is on a much longer leash, but still needed a better performance yesterday from his players than they delivered in Wednesday's 5-0 thrashing by Manchester United. The fact he got it was all the more impressive after forwards Bobby Zamora (Achilles) and Andy Johnson (groin) both pulled out injured.
Admitting he "gambled" with his team selection and tactics, Jol said: "Our two main strikers dropped out, so we had to come up with something else. I think it paid off."
Indeed, Fulham were unrecognisable from Wednesday night and Jol added: "We had a good result against Liverpool, a good result at the Emirates.
"You can't say we are inconsistent - it was just against United that we didn't have a good result. We've shown we can give all these teams a good game."