As he contemplated Chelsea’s situation in the last chance saloon of the Champions League group stages, Rafa Benitez was asked to identify one improvement that he had noticed in the game of the Fernando Torres, since he took over the club 14 days ago.
Rescuing the form of the £50m striker who has scored two goals in his last 12 starts was never going to be a simple task, and Benitez has little alternative but to select him as the only fit, experienced forward at his disposal. He said he had not seen Gary Neville’s dissection of Torres’ shrinking confidence on Sky Sports on Monday, but nevertheless the Chelsea interim first-team coach could offer one shred of consolation.
“It’s not just scoring goals [with Torres], so I will say something,” Benitez said. “We changed his position in corners, for example. I don’t know if Gary Neville had this opportunity, but if you analyse the corners against, he was amazing. Two or three times he’s cleared the ball and afterwards was just doing man to man because it’s what he had to do.
“He’s a big lad, good in the air, so okay, man to man. He’s a striker so we’ve put him in front and he was really good.”
In the case of Torres, any signs of improvement are to be welcomed, but when he arrived from Liverpool 23 months ago for a transfer fee that was a British record, it was not his prowess at defending corners that Roman Abramovich had in mind. Didier Drogba was a master of the clearing header when Chelsea were defending headers, but he put a few away at the other end too.
With every game that goes by, the Torres situation is becoming increasingly difficult for the club to put a gloss on and with their Champions League future hanging by a thread they need a goal and a victory more than ever. Shakhtar will have to beat Juventus in Donetsk for Chelsea to have a chance of surviving in the competition, but first Benitez’s team will have to beat the Danish champions, Nordsjaelland, at home.
Torres is, Benitez said, scoring goals aplenty in training and there is little doubt that he will asked to lead the line again. Asked whether, as Neville suggested was possible, Torres’ team-mates lacked the confidence in the striker to trust him with the ball, Benitez said that he still believed the player would come good for Chelsea.
He said: “I didn’t watch the analysis, but Fernando is a great player and his team-mates know he’s a great player. If he’s in the right position, they will play with him. If he’s in the wrong positions, maybe not. But I can make 200 analyses from here, watching the telly, and I’ll be right.
“It doesn’t matter what I say. I can find clips you can use in one way or the other way. The main thing is what you can see as a manager on the pitch and in the training sessions, and Fernando is doing a great job. [On Monday] we had a training session with finishing [practice] and Fernando scored a lot of goals.
“I think he has more confidence and his team-mates know that he’s trying very hard and that is the main thing for me.”
Torres gave a rare interview to the Fifa website, ahead of Chelsea’s participation in the Fifa Club World Cup, in which he repeated that he had come to Chelsea to win trophies and was happy there. “In my first full season, we won the FA Cup and Champions League. What more can you ask? We have a chance now to win the Fifa Club World Cup.
“I have four more years on my contract so hopefully I can win many more things - the Premier League would be amazing. The Capital One Cup and the Community Shield also.” Unfortunately for his manager the Capital One Cup will not be enough for Abramovich if Chelsea’s league form continues in its current vein. As for winning the Community Shield, quite frankly, is he joking?
Benitez has proved the master of navigating the Champions League in the past but he resisted comparisons between the Nordsjaelland game and the final group game of the victorious 2004-2005 campaign when his Liverpool side beat Olympiakos by the requisite two clear goals to qualify. Chelsea’s destiny is not in their own hands, and they must keep an eye on events in Donetsk where Group E’s final placings will be decided.
Benitez reminded Shakhtar’s players that tonight was also an opportunity for them to shine “They have good players, players who want to be seen around the world. It’s important for them, a challenge. Everyone will be watching their game carefully so they know they have to perform.” He stopped short of saying this was their chance to get a move away from Shakhtar, in spite of the lucrative wages available there, but the hint was there.
There will be no returns from among his injured players. Frank Lampard has only been training with the squad for two sessions and Daniel Sturridge and John Terry are even further away from playing first team football and unlikely to be back for the trip to Sunderland on Saturday. As it has been for all but two games of the season, it will be down to Torres in attack tonight.
At Liverpool, Torres was a very different kind of animal. “[Steven] Gerrard and [Xabi] Alonso could pass the ball quick and Fernando, who people didn’t really know, could benefit because he was so quick,” Benitez said. “Now people know his game and are ready for him. But he will score goals and his confidence will go high.” As ever, he hopes that will start tonight.Reuse content