Torres and Benitez have reason to smile
Sunderland 1 Chelsea 3:Rafael Benitez is nothing if not ambitious. With his project to silence dissenting Chelsea supporters while simultaneously supervising the rebirth of Fernando Torres now firmly underway, the Spaniard has issued a challenge to Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini.
Bolstered by two goals from Torres – the striker’s first in the Premier League since early October – Chelsea’s latest manager poured scorn on the notion that the title race was now an all-Manchester affair.
When someone told Benitez bookmakers had quoted the chances of his new team becoming champions in May as 16-1 he smiled. “I think those odds will be reduced now,” he said. “Maybe to around 5-1. If we play at this level, at this intensity and with this confidence we’ll win a few games in a row and hopefully we’ll be back up there. .”
As he prepared for a flight to the Club World Cup in Japan, Benitez could not resist reminding everyone that jumping to foregone conclusions is a dangerous game.
“You have to remember last season,” he said. “In January everyone was saying Manchester City would win the title easily. And yet at the end, on the last day, they could have lost it; they had to score in the last minute to win it.”
Thanks to Torres, Benitez’s first league win since replacing Roberto Di Matteo was sealed considerably earlier than that. By half-time, the Spain striker’s expert volley and assured penalty had put Chelsea two up. Soon after the restart, another stupendous strike rebounded off the woodwork, allowing Juan Mata to score the third goal.
Benitez can appear cold towards players but the instinctive, thoroughly radiant smile on his face at the first mention of the name “Fernando” betrayed an almost paternal pride in his newly renascent former Liverpool protege.
“If the team are playing well and creating chances Fernando will score,” he said. “I’ve been analysing his movement and I’ve adjusted a few little things. Fernando knows the movement I want from him and I’ve seen his confidence is getting better. Now I want to see him scoring every game.”
Martin O’Neill can only pray that one of his players secures three points tomorrow night when Reading visit. With both teams in the bottom three and Sunderland having won only two of 23 Premier League games it promises to be an edgy evening, not to mention one on which the home manager may be well advised to select Danny Rose in central midfield rather than at left-back.
Midfield has been a particularly weak department for Sunderland recently but shortly after Adam Johnson’s tightly angled cross-shot deceived Petr Cech and arrowed into the top corner, O’Neill relocated Rose from full-back to the heart of the action. It proved an inspired switch as Sunderland instantly looked more dangerous.
An improvement on Johnson’s part also helped. If Rose has been Sunderland’s most dynamic player this season, the former Manchester City winger has frequently looked a waste of €12.5m; but Saturday proved a welcome exception.
“Adam was having a go at players, taking Ashley Cole on at times,” said O’Neill. “There were clear signs he’s coming back to the form we know he’s capable of but he must maintain it. Tuesday’s a big game.”