LONDON, England, May 4 – The FA Cup final could witness a battle of the misfits on Saturday as Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres look for Wembley redemption after enduring seasons to forget at Liverpool and Chelsea.
Carroll and Torres became entwined in one of the most dramatic transfer deals in history last year, when Torres’s £50 million ($80m) exit from Liverpool to Chelsea triggered Carroll’s £35 million departure from Newcastle United to Anfield.
Yet the dizzying price tags have appeared to weigh heavily on both strikers ever since that frenzied finale to the transfer window, with both suffering protracted scoring slumps with their new clubs.
However, as Wembley looms even nearer, there are signs that both players are ready to start paying back their transfer fees in the currency they were hired to deliver: goals.
Torres, who could lay claim to being among the world’s best strikers a few seasons ago, has suffered a horrendous first full season at Chelsea, his once lethal touch in front of goal replaced by a footballing equivalent of the yips.
The Spanish international went a staggering 1,541 minutes of game-time spanning a five-month period without a goal until he found the net twice in Chelsea’s 5-2 win over Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-final.
Even that was not enough to earn Torres a place in interim manager Roberto Di Matteo’s starting line-up, with the Chelsea coach relying on 34-year-old warhorse Didier Drogba in the club’s biggest games.
However, Torres rose from the bench to score a memorable equaliser in Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona last month, finishing with the sort of aplomb that was once his calling card.
Against Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, it appeared as if Torres’ Camp Nou heroics had removed a mental blockage as the striker scored his first Chelsea hat-trick in a 6-1 drubbing of their relegation-threatened opponents.
It is unclear, however, whether Torres’ recent run of goals will be enough to dislodge Drogba from Di Matteo’s starting XI, given the Ivorian international’s remarkable scoring record at Wembley.
Drogba has scored seven goals in seven appearances at the stadium, including a wonderful strike that set Chelsea on the way to their 5-1 drubbing of Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals.
Like Torres, Carroll has shown only occasional glimpses of the sort of form that persuaded Liverpool to make him the most expensive English footballer in history, and many remain unconvinced that the 23-year-old was worth the money.
However, he has plugged away despite indifferent form, and popped up with the late goal that saw Liverpool into the final with a 2-1 win over Everton.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has been unstinting in his support of Carroll, insisting the tall striker and other members of his side thrive on criticism.
“Everyone has been battered,” Dalglish said recently. “Maybe that is what we need to get ourselves going forward.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion but if you want to be a top player, you have to go through most of the emotions you get in football.
“Part of that is how you come back from criticism.”