LONDON (Reuters) - With Chelsea needing to score twice to level up their League Cup semi-final against Swansea City, it should have been safe to assume that 50 million-pound striker Fernando Torres would be a central part of manager Rafa Benitez’s game plan on Wednesday.
Sadly for the Spaniard, that was not the case.
As votes of no-confidence go, it was about as emphatic as it gets with the former Atletico Madrid and Liverpool goal machine left kicking his heels on the bench for 81 minutes.
Chelsea began the second leg in south Wales 2-0 down and desperate for goals, yet Benitez refused to unleash Torres on Swansea’s defence until the game was almost up.
The manager bemoaned his side’s lack of firepower in their quest to overturn a first-leg deficit, a complaint completely undermined by his failure to trust Torres to partner new signing Demba Ba in attack.
Since Chelsea signed Ba from Newcastle United Benitez has refused to start the pair together.
A cup semi-final appeared to be the perfect moment to veer away from his policy yet Benitez, who has been at pains to defend Torres from the criticism that regularly comes his way, refused to bend.
When Torres did finally get on the pitch he hardly got a kick as Swansea proved that the best way to defend a lead is to stop the opposition having the ball.
“We knew we had to score three goals, but we didn’t take the chances we had, especially in the last 20 minutes of the first half,” Benitez told Chelsea’s website.
”We had pressure, they were dealing with it well and we have to congratulate them, we cannot change the situation again.
”I was convinced that we could score. We were on top of them and pushing and pushing, but we didn’t take our chances. This was the same as in the first leg.
“We knew we had to score first to change things.”
It is two years since Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich broke the British transfer record to sign Torres from Liverpool.
Three managers, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo, all struggled to consistently inspire the off-key striker, and Benitez appears no closer to sparking the player into life.
Torres has not scored since the 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa on December 23 and he cut a grumpy figure on the bench on Wednesday.
With his reputation tarnished it is hard to see any of Europe’s leading club offering Torres a way out of Stamford Bridge while his wages and the fee Chelsea would demand also make a transfer window move unlikely.
So it seems that Benitez, an interim manger who may not even be at Chelsea next season, must find a way of reviving Torres if Chelsea’s season is not to fizzle out completely.
Out of the Champions League and effectively out of the Premier League title race, Chelsea travel to third tier Brentford this weekend in the FA Cup clinging on to their last realistic chance of silverware this season.
Editing by Ed Osmond