Chelsea 1 // Wigan 0
LONDON // If you are struggling, bend the rules. Another blank afternoon for Fernando Torres, yet at least he contributed to Chelsea's decisive goal.
Not with a restorative finish or clever pass, but with an elbow in the face of Wigan Athletic's unfortunate goalkeeper that helped Florent Malouda convert a corner.
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Yellow-carded by a Spanish referee for diving in the penalty area on Wednesday night, Chelsea's £50 million (Dh301m) substitute drew the ire of another compatriot here. Roberto Martinez's attempt to deliver Wigan from relegation may be critically damaged by this moment of gamesmanship.
"You end up with a huge feeling of frustration because the goal is a corner where Ali [al Habsi] is impeded by Fernando Torres," said Martinez, the Wigan manager. "It is clear as day that he's got his elbow in his face. I'm extremely disappointed Howard Webb [the referee] didn't give us that call because that was the call of the game."
Content not to have dropped more points in front of Chelsea's ever-demanding owner, Carlo Ancelotti did not deny that Torres might have been penalised.
"I don't like to speak about this because, after what happened last Wednesday, it's better to stay calm," he said. "Maybe it could be a foul but I'm not sure."
Would Torres start at Manchester United when Chelsea attempt to recover a one-goal Champions League deficit on Tuesday night? Ancelotti said he had decided upon formation and personnel, yet refused to divulge them.
"Every one of us wanted Fernando to score today," the manager said. "He was very unlucky because one time the goalkeeper had a fantastic save. He moved well because in 30 minutes he had three or four chances to score.
"Maybe he will score the most important goals of our season." Ancelotti has been asked to deal with some extraordinary events during his two years at Stamford Bridge; being asked to defend the failings of the UK's most expensive footballer ranks high among them. Throw in his final games for Liverpool and a couple of international outings and Torres has gone 822 minutes without scoring. In fact, often without even looking like scoring.
Still unsure of next season's Champions League place, Ancelotti had promised to field his "best team" against Wigan. What emerged was a compromise: John Terry rested, Jose Bosingwa sidelined with a virus (to ironic cheers); Torres, Michael Essien and Yuri Zhirkov benched. It did involve a return to the formation and forward line fundamental to Chelsea's recent successes, though.
The effect was almost immediate. Didier Drogba, Malouda and Nicolas Anelka combining well in the first half, yet Chelsea struggled to break down Wigan.
The interval brought Yossi Benayoun's return from a half-year injury absence. Fourteen minutes later, Torres resumed a partnership with his former Liverpool colleague, with Anelka sacrificed.
Then Torres played his contentious part in Chelsea's goal. Drogba's corner was flicked into the six-yard box by David Luiz. There, the Spaniard leaned into al Habsi, the Omani, whose punch fell to first Frank Lampard then Malouda to poke at goal. The second effort made it across the line.
Not so Torres. Released into his preferred space behind the defence by a long ball, Torres failed to control. A similar result from another Drogba through ball, while falling under Emmerson Boyce's penalty box challenge, brought neither spot kick nor caution.
"After what he did to my goalkeeper I have absolutely no sympathy for him at all," said Martinez.
Petr Cech produced "a world-class save" to deny former colleague Franco Di Santo, yet "Torres, Torres," were the half-hearted cheers. Stamford Bridge had seen a Chelsea player end an 11-week goal drought. Unfortunately, it was not the right one.