Benitez defends floundering Fernando as Blues teeter on edge of Euro abyss
RAFAEL BENITEZ has offered a spirited defence of Fernando Torres, praising the £50million-man's work in front of goal as "amazing". Unfortunately for the striker's chances of turning around his wretched run of form, Benítez was talking about his work in front of his own goal, assisting the Chelsea back four at corners.
It is a sign of how far Torres has fallen from the gilded heights of 2008 that Benítez, the manager who knows him better than any, was forced to scour his defensive highlights to find a source of praise.
Speaking ahead of tonight's final Champions League group game against FC Nordsjaelland upon which the defending champions' European fate will hinge, Benítez was again asked about Torres's value to the team.
As you might expect from a man trying to instil confidence in the player and earn respect from the rest of the squad, Benítez did his best to praise the striker. Sadly his best case left Torres, a man signed to score goals not prevent them, damned with the faintest of praise.
"I didn't watch the analysis, but Fernando is a great player and his team-mates know he's a great player, he said.
"Yesterday, we had a training session with finishing and Fernando scored a lot of goals. But it's not just scoring goals. I will say something. We changed his position in corners, for example.
"I don't know if Gary Neville (the Sky pundit) had this opportunity, but if you analyse the corners against (West Ham) he was amazing. Two or three times he's cleared the ball and afterwards was just doing man to man because it's what he had to do.
"He's a big lad, good in the air, so okay, man to man. He's a striker so we've put him in front and he was really good. So, he's helping the team, in this case to defend. As a striker, you like him to score goals. But I would like to see maybe Fernando not scoring goals and the team winning."
Torres's last goal came in Chelsea's last Champions League game at Stamford Bridge, when a clearance by Shakhtar's goalkeeper cannoned in off his shin.
He would take a similar ricochet to end his barren spell, but even a winner at Stamford Bridge tonight may not be enough to prevent Chelsea becoming the first Champions League holders to exit in the group stages.
Defeats in Donetsk and Turin have left Chelsea needing a win and hoping Shakhtar beat Juventus in Ukraine. While defeating the Danes at home should not be beyond even a faltering Chelsea, survival is a long shot.
Juventus need only a point from the other game, and Shakhtar's coach has already talked of his Brazilian players looking forward to their holidays.
Going out of Europe will not lift the mood at Chelsea any, but Benítez can at least claim not to be responsible. He is inheriting the failures of Roberto Di Matteo's side, and Benítez said a must-win game might release some of the anxiety around the club.
"It's not dependent upon us but others, too. You can do a lot of maths, but you have to win. That's it. For us, it's an easy approach: prepare the game for winning, nothing else."
Benítez gave his press conference wearing a luminous yellow jacket, a colour he did not look entirely comfortable with, but he already knows he is a marked man, under pressure after failing to transform the club's fortunes in his first three games in the Premier League.
Continued contact between Roman Abramovich's advisers and Avram Grant forced the club to deny this week that the Israeli was poised to be appointed as a consultant.
Benítez said he had been told Grant, a "nice man", was not coming, and while he had not spoken to the owner since the defeat to West Ham, he had consulted his people. Somewhat ominously, they agreed the team needed to do better.
Benítez believes that the return of John Terry and Frank Lampard, who trained with the squad under the new regime for the first time this week, hold the key.
"The problem we have is some of the key players who have that character are missing at the moment. The character is there but it's not on the pitch because they're injured," he said.