Fernando Torres had a tummy bug against Swansea City, says Rafael Benitez

Chelsea manager backs misfiring striker but Ba is expected to start against Stoke today

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The Independent Football

The listless and much-criticised performance by Fernando Torres on Wednesday was due to a stomach bug, manager Rafael Benitez explained last night.

Torres was noticeably off the pace during the home defeat to Swansea City in the Capital One Cup and received unprecedented abuse from the home support when he was substituted for new signing Demba Ba.

Benitez, though, praised Torres for playing through illness, and predicted that the Chelsea fans would "love him again".

"Fernando has a stomach bug and had to play on Wednesday," Benitez said. "Fernando was playing with this problem. He is a professional trying to do his best in a difficult situation. I am really pleased with his attitude. He tried to play with a problem. He put in an effort for the team.

"[Torres] is feeling better but still has some problems. He has had a problem for a week or more. He was trying. The other day he was sick on the bench. That was why he didn't play at Southampton. He was there and making an effort just in case."

Chelsea fans directed more hostility than heard before towards Torres on Wednesday, but Benitez said the £50 million striker had improved since his appointment last month and predicted the Spaniard would be popular again.

"He was scoring goals and doing better," Benitez said. "We only had Torres [to play up front] so he was doing a massive effort for the team. He was criticised but was working so hard in difficult circumstances.

"The fans loved Torres when he was scoring and giving everything. They will love him again when he starts scoring the goals again. They will appreciate the effort."

As for a report that Torres had said he wanted to return to Liverpool, where he performed so well under Benitez, the Chelsea interim manager again defended the striker.

"When a player has these problems and is trying to give his best that is enough. Every session I have seen him trying his best. He is giving 100 per cent every training session. The main thing is to concentrate on your job. Fernando is concentrated and trying to do that. It is the sign of a great character."

On Wednesday Torres and Benitez had to listen to the majority of Chelsea fans calling for Ba to be brought on, though a slight hamstring problem kept the new signing from Newcastle on the bench until the 81st minute. But Ba is expected to start today at Stoke.

"If he is fine, it is an option," Benitez said of Ba. "He was great in the first game [at Southampton] but we knew the problems and had to manage him."

John Terry is close to being available for the starting XI again after being out for nine weeks with a knee injury. Chelsea's captain played on Thursday for the Under-21s and may make the bench this afternoon.

"He played yesterday and he is okay," Benitez said. "He has been training today and he is on the list, fingers crossed. He cannot start yet but he is available. It is always important to have someone who has character, he is an important player for us."

Benitez has told Branislav Ivanovic not to be down-hearted after the defender's two mistakes in the defeat to Swansea. "The first thing I did was make clear that I was not worried about the player making a mistake, only those not trying to do things the right way," Benitez said. "He knows he made mistakes but he tried to do his best. He is quite emotional. Mistakes affect him maybe too much. Which is why I said I would not be blaming him."

Goalkeeper Petr Cech will have a fitness test before today's game.