Monday 19 March 2018

Torres ignites Blues' hopes

Sunderland 1
Chelsea 3

Luke Edwards

It will remain a thankless task for Rafael Benitez and he will not last long if he is wrong, but Chelsea's unloved interim manager is predicting the Blues can still win the title.

Bold words from a manager who has only a temporary contract, has won just one Premier League game in four and is still viewed with suspicion and mistrust by most Chelsea supporters.

That Benitez's side played well and dominated the game is unarguable and the fact Fernando Torres (right) scored twice and now has four goals in five games since he was reunited with his former Liverpool manager is encouraging, but they cannot play teams as out of form as Sunderland every week.

Chelsea will need to do rather more than beat a side that slipped into the bottom three after this defeat to muscle in on Manchester's tussle for the title, but you cannot blame Benitez for talking up their chances.

Bigger gaps than the 10 points Chelsea were behind the leaders before this game have disappeared in previous years.

"You have to remember last year that in January everyone was saying that Manchester City would win the title easily and yet on the last day they had to score in the last minute to win it," Benitez said in rebuffing a suggestion the title fight was a two-horse race.

"If we play at this level and at this intensity we will win games. You have seen today that we have confidence and if you win two or three games in a row you get closer and we will be there."

For all of Chelsea's apparent infatuation with former Barcelona supremo Pep Guardiola, Benitez wants the job long term and the only way he is going to get it is if he can give Roman Abramovich more trophies.

The Russian did not expect to give the job permanently to Roberto Di Matteo until he won the Champions League and the FA Cup and while every manager is only on a temporary contract under Abramovich, Benitez, whose track record of success is better than Di Matteo's, doesn't intend to disappear in May.

Should he lead Chelsea to victory in the Club World Cup this month and beat Manchester City and United to the domestic title, even the supporters who chanted Di Matteo's name immediately after Chelsea had taken the lead on Saturday may have to begrudgingly admit he deserves a crack at it long term.

"I will do my best from the first day to the last I'm here. I think the fans will be pleased with the performance," Benitez said.

The Blues arrived in Japan yesterday to learn that their semi-final opposition on Thursday will be the Mexicans of Monterrey while Corinthians take on Al-Ahly, of Egypt, to decide who contests Sunday's climax.

Chelsea were good going forward, but for all of the talk of Benitez's defensive improvements, Sunderland scored once through Adam Johnson and goalkeeper Petr Cech made two excellent saves in the second half to keep them at bay.

Torres, though, does look reinvigorated. There was the rare sight of a smile on his face, even before he met Eden Hazard's cross with his studs to give Chelsea the lead. We have been here before with Torres. Almost every time he has scored since his £50m move from Liverpool, rehabilitation has been predicted.

Yet, he has always looked unsure of himself at Chelsea, haunted even, but watching him step up to take his first penalty in the Premier League after Seb Larsson had rashly brought down Ramires was perhaps the biggest reason to believe the road to recovery had not merely taken another detour.

The way the former Liverpool striker took control of the situation and stroked the ball into the corner oozed self-belief. He had a hand in Chelsea's third too, seizing on a terrible touch from Phil Bardsley. His shot came back off the crossbar and Juan Mata tucked in the rebound.

As for Sunderland, they gave Chelsea a few worrying moments, but were architects of their own destruction either side of half-time, giving away a needless penalty and then gifting Chelsea their third at the start of the second half.

Their fans still managed to applaud the team off at the end after Johnson, in his best performance since arriving from Manchester City, pulled one back with a fizzing strike. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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