Fernando Torres helping Chelsea to finish season with a flourish
Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 4
Over and above the goals and the substantial improvement in general contribution, Roberto Di Matteo has detected signs that Fernando Torres could be destined for a bountiful end to the season. No longer does the striker cut an isolated figure, worn down by endless journeys to and from the substitutes' bench. Five starts in less than a month confirm he's mainstream again.
"He has got a smile on his face," said Chelsea's interim manager. "He's enjoying his playing and he's confident. Strikers feed off goals but he has been playing very, very well, even without them. He has been assisting other goals."
So reluctant is Di Matteo to rake up unhappy memories of the tortured Andre Villas-Boas reign that he shuns comparisons between the possible re-emergence of a genuine £50m talent and the pale shadow that hovered in and out of view for months.
Ahead, though, of a run-in that continues with the home Champions League return against Benfica on Wednesday and has Chelsea pushing for two cups and a top-four finish, the benefits that a fully reinvigorated Torres offer are blindingly obvious.
To the two goals the Spaniard plundered against Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-final and the set-up for Salomon Kalou in Portugal, he added what his manager called a "terrific" finish on the break to kill off spirited Aston Villa. It was trademark Torres, as anyone with a good memory will testify. He actually had a hand in all his side's four goals.
Chelsea are on the up, too, with six victories and a draw from the eight matches since the change at the helm. The urgency to see Didier Drogba back from the foot injury suffered in training last week is now reduced but David Luiz did not make it to half-time at Villa Park because of an ankle ligament problem.
Villa goals from defenders James Collins and Eric Lichaj in the space of four minutes late in the second half prevented this being a perfect Chelsea day. Talk about unlikely marksmen – neither Collins, Lichaj nor the man who scored two from corners at the other end, Branislav Ivanovic, had previously netted in the Premier League in 2011-12.
"Wednesday is a huge game for us," said a buoyant Ivanovic. "It is a big opportunity and a big chance. We got a great result in Lisbon but it is not over."
Villa were watched by their cancer-stricken skipper Stiliyan Petrov, who showed his true leadership credentials by embracing his team-mates before kick-off and was then visibly moved by the goodwill that flooded his way from all parts.
Aston Villa: GIVEN 6/10, LICHAJ 7, COLLINS 6, BAKER 5, WARNOCK 6, BANNAN 6, HERD 6, IRELAND 6, GARDNER 6, WEIMANN 5, AGBONLAHOR 6
Chelsea: CECH 7, COLE 6, LUIZ 6, TERRY 6, IVANOVIC 7, KALOU 6, MIKEL 7, LAMPARD 6, MATA 8, TORRES 7, STURRIDGE 7
Scorers: Aston Villa Collins 77, Lichaj 80. Chelsea Sturridge 9, Ivanovic 51, 83, Torres 90.
Substitutes: Aston Villa Albrighton 6 (Herd, 70), Heskey (Weimann, 82). Chelsea Cahill 6 (Luiz, 45), Ramires 6 (Kalou, 59), Malouda 6 (Mata, 74).
Booked: Aston Villa Warnock. Chelsea none.
Man of the match Mata. Match rating 9/10.
Possession: Aston Villa 47% Chelsea 53%.
Attempts on target: Aston Villa 5 Chelsea 9.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 34,740.
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