Fernando Torres, the English Premier League's most expensive player, suffered a fresh wave of embarrassment Sunday by committing what will surely be the most humiliating miss of the season.
Torres, who signed with Chelsea for a $79.5 million transfer fee in January, messed up a golden opportunity to give his team a fighting chance against Manchester United by slicing the ball wide of the goal when all he had to do was tap it into an empty net.
United went on to a 3-1 victory to maintain its perfect start to the EPL campaign, while Torres was left to reflect on yet another miserable afternoon.
After joining Chelsea from Liverpool, he suffered a horrendous slump toward the end of last season and has struggled to adapt to his new surroundings. Sunday looked like it could provide an improvement after Torres scored in the second half with a true touch of class, a delicate chip over goalkeeper David De Gea.
Yet it was the moment in the 83th minute for which he – and this game – will be remembered. After being sent clear, Torres took the ball around De Gea and therefore set himself up for the simplest of tap-ins, the kind that would scarcely trouble an average nine-year-old club player.
Inexplicably, however, Torres took his eye off the ball and saw it slice off the side of his foot as he tried to blast it in. The look of horror and disbelief on his face told the whole story. Torres played a huge role in Spain winning the World Cup and European Championship, but these tough times show no sign of easing.
The pressure will not dim soon, either, with Chelsea in danger of falling off the pace set by a rampant United squad at the top of the table. This victory was United's fifth in a row, their best start to a campaign at any time during Sir Alex Ferguson's 26-year reign.
"A 3-2 score at that stage would give us a mental edge for the rest of the game," Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas admitted.
There also was an extraordinary miss from United's Wayne Rooney, perhaps the only blip the England striker has racked up in what has been one of his finest seasons. Rooney stepped up to take a penalty kick in the 55th minute but slipped, fell over and pushed his kick well wide of the target.
By that point, though, United was already ahead 3-1 thanks to goals from Chris Smalling, Nani and Rooney himself, in yet another dominant and powerful display.
Even so, Ferguson was not fully satisfied, an indication perhaps that he will settle for nothing less than excellence in what may be one of his final seasons before retirement.
"For the neutrals it was a fantastic and open game," Ferguson said. "But we made things hard for ourselves by giving the ball away so many times. Some of our football was terrific, and in the second half we should have finished it off, even if we were careless at times."
Of course, all is not lost for Chelsea at this early stage but even now, the five points gap United has opened up above them – with Manchester City sandwiched in between – must seem like a sizeable obstacle.
If United keeps up this form, it is hard to see anyone stopping them, especially if opponents such as Torres continue to be in such a charitable mood.
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