It was a match that started well, went a little bit pear shaped in the middle, but ultimately finished on a huge high. Chelsea earned three points with a never-comfortable 3-0 win over Avram Grant's West Ham United - but almost as importantly 50M signing Fernando Torres finally got off the mark in the 84th minute to secure a victory, taking the monkey off his back and causing Chelsea fans around the world to issue huge sighs of relief. I think everyone's glad that little saga's over.
Anyway, before Torres came in and made his mark late in the game, the big story was about the weather. Apparently the 2012 apocolypse came over in West London in the form of a torrential downpour. The match was played in pouring rain on a disintegrating pitch accompanied by thunder and lighting. Ideal footballing conditions, you say? By the end of the first half half the floodlights at Stamford Bridge had been knocked out and the advertising hoardings were out of action - even Carlo Ancelotti had to go and find a coat. It was ugly out there.
Those were the conditions in which Chelsea found themselves playing against a weakened West Ham side. Ancelotti's only change from midweek was replacing Paulo Ferreira with Branislav Ivanovic, but Avram Grant was missing (amongst others) Scott Parker and Matthew Upson and had to made do with a rather sad looking lineup that should never have caused Chelsea any problems at all.
And for the first twenty minutes, it didn't. Chelsea should have been 2-0 up extremely quickly - Florent Malouda was sent through one on one against Rob Green in the third minute, and only a Mark Noble block denied him shortly thereafter. Ashley Cole was pressing hard down the left, and West Ham couldn't get the ball out of their end - their strategy of 'punt ball and hope Carlton Cole wins in it the air' was thwarted by a counter-strategy known by people in the business as 'John Obi Mikel'. It was ugly, and the Hammers were about to get blown off the park (not literally, although considering the weather, a tornado was entirely possible).
Something strange was happening, though. West Ham were refusing to roll over and die. It took Petr Cech being forced to make saves from Demba Ba and then Jonathan Spector in quick succession for most fans to realise that the Blues were no longer in total command of the match and that West Ham were in fact on the verge of putting us 1-0 down at Stamford Bridge. This was bad.
Suddenly Chelsea lacked any sense of coherence, were unable to clear their lines, and were reliant on luck and good goalkeeping (mostly luck to keep them level). While the opening stages of the match were a walk in the park under a refreshing summer shower, by the end of the first half things had turned decidedly more nasty for Chelsea, who were unfortunate enough to see Michael Essien and David Luiz both injured (although each would soldier on) during the spell of West Ham pressure.
So then Chelsea decided to score. Didier Drogba released Ashley Cole down the left, and England defender's cutback into the box was met by the onrushing Frank Lampard, who slammed home first time past a helpless Rob Green. It was a little bit odd seeing Chelsea go up right before halftime when it was the vistors who probably deserved the lead, but hey, we'd take it - and Essien nearly made it two seconds thereafter.
The interval was mostly spent fixing Stamford Bridge's electronics, which had gone on the fritz due to all the lightning, paving the way for a ridiculous second half which saw far too many close chances for both sides. John Terry and Frank Lampard both somehow completely missed the ball when presented with an open net. Salomon Kalou hit the post. David Luiz in the crossbar. Robbie Keane was himself, and Carlton Cole fell over when presented with the chance to equalise. The second half was insane, and certainly not for the faint of heart.
It was a little bit ridiculous that they were even playing. By now there was standing water on the pitch and the ball was kicking up a tail whenever it moved along the ground/whatever you want to call it. Coherent football was impossible and the conditions contributed to a couple of injuries as well - Essien ended up limping off with what Ancelotti is calling a muscle problem, and Mark Noble was stretchered off the pitch after a relatively harmless looking collision. The game (obviously) could continue, but it wasn't all that far from being called off either.
Anyway, the conditions were perfect for ending a drought, which meant Torres more or less had to see the pitch at some point. He was introduced in the 77th minute - his first time as the head of Chelsea's 4-3-3, incidentally*, and was phenomenal for the rest of the match. His first touch saw him set up Nicolas Anelka on a fast break from Chelsea, reaching a slightly overhit past to guide the ball away from two defenders to where Anelka lay to hammer home - the Frenchman, however, didn't hit the ball hard enough and Danny Gabiddon could clear off the line. Chelsea's second wasn't going to come that easy.
And when it did come, it very nearly didn't. Petr Cech punted the ball long, Anelka and Torres both made for the bounce, and then Anelka decided to slip a pass forward for the Spaniard, who took it in his stride while breaking free of West Ham's defence. Then he hit a puddle as he was getting ready to shift the ball onto his left foot. The ball stopped dead, Torres kept going, and it looked like the chance was gone, but he pirouetted almost instantly and slammed the ball past Green with his left foot.
Stamford Bridge out-decibelled the thunder then, if just for a few minutes. Every outfield player celebrated with Torres, creating a gigantic pile of blue shirts by the corner flag. Finally, at long last, it was over.
But the game wasn't. Torres and Chelsea had time for more goals, and this time he turned provider, attempting to play a one-two with Anelka only for Anelka to miss the ball entirely and let it roll to Florent Malouda on the edge of the box. That didn't prove to be too much of a problem, though, and Malouda crashed the ball home to make the score 3-0 in injury time. The match ended with Torres performing a brilliant slide tackle on West Ham right back Lars Jacobsen to generate yet another Chelsea chance, but the Blues were crowded out int he box and Phil Dowd's four minutes allotted time were up, so the final whistle blew and both teams went home to what one has to imagine was a very hot mug of tea.
No, it wasn't pretty, but it couldn't have been in weather like this. We got what we wanted though - a win, three points, and that one moment of sheer unbridled joy. Fernando Torres has arrived.
*Also his first time playing underwater.