Rafael Benitez has claimed Fernando Torres’s long-awaited return to form is proof that his Chelsea revolution is working.
Almost two years since Torres’ record-breaking move from Liverpool and he is finally starting to score the number of goals to justify his £50m price tag.
Six in five games is by far the most sustained run of the 28-year-old’s Stamford Bridge career and it has co-incided almost exactly with his reunion with former Anfield boss Benitez.
Chelsea’s interim manager immediately identified that Torres had lost some of the physical conditioning that had made him one of the most feared forwards in the world, as well as an obvious lack of confidence from failing to find the back of the net.
“Two or three things that we are doing for some players are really good,” Benitez said, claiming the sharpness in the majority of his players was now “much better”.
“Fernando is one of the examples.”
He added: “He’s scoring goals and the team is winning and playing well, so he’s really happy, not just because he’s scoring goals but also because the team’s doing well.”
Despite the clear impact Benitez has made on Torres, he played down the extent of his own influence on his fellow Spaniard.
“I think that the team has an influence on him because the team is doing well, so the team is playing better, creating more chances,” he said. “So Fernando is taking more chances.”
Benitez refused to speculate on exactly how much his training methods had improved Torres and others during his month in charge ahead of tomorrow’s Barclays Premier League clash with Aston Villa.
“You can more or less think but imagine I will say to you that they are 90% [fit] and we lose on Sunday, you will say, ’What is going on?”’ he said.
“[What] if I say 20% and we beat Aston Villa 5-0? Football is so special that you cannot guarantee 70, 50 or 60.
“What I can say is we have time to bring players in the team and then change players, so we can manage the tiredness a little bit better.”
Indeed, Benitez has rotated his squad far more than predecessor Roberto Di Matteo and he revealed fatigue had been a real concern in the wake of Chelsea’s gruelling Club World Cup trip to Japan.
So much so in fact that it threatened to derail Benitez’s plans for Wednesday’s Capital One Cup quarter-final win at Leeds.
“Some players, they were quite tired,” he said. “The day before, we were training and I was talking with the fitness coach. We had three or four that could be a problem. We decided to change some players but I didn’t want to change too many.”
With no end in sight to their punishing fixture schedule, tiredness is likely to become more of a problem as the season progresses.
That makes reinforcing what is an alarmingly thin squad imperative during the January transfer window.
Reports today suggest Benitez faces a battle to convince Chelsea’s board to spend big rather than recalling some of the youngsters the club currently has out on loan.
Inaction is simply not an option, with Daniel Sturridge said to be on the brink of being sold, Oriol Romeu out for the season and John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses set to be missing for up to a month on African Nations Cup duty.
Chelsea’s failure to reach the Champions League knockout stage has also left them with two extra potential fixtures in the shape of a Europa League last-32 clash with Sparta Prague.
One player not complaining about a trip to the Czech Republic was goalkeeper Petr Cech, who will return to the club where he made his name.
“It is fantastic for me to be able, after 12 years, to finally play a Czech team in a European competition,” Cech told Chelsea TV.
“Although the ideal scenario was to play them in the Champions League, this is one of the positives from not being able to play in the Champions League now.
“We will try to win the Europa League now and it is great for me to have this experience of going home and playing for Chelsea in Czech Republic.”