There will no doubt be questions of, “Is Torres back?” asked after Chelsea’s victory over Sunderland, but the truth is, it’s far too soon to tell. Instead, let’s focus on why Chelsea has been suffering and what seems to have ended their recent slump.
Before Saturday, Chelsea’s last victory in the Premier League was in October. For a team of their caliber, these results are unacceptable. The sacking of beloved manager Roberto Di Matteo can perhaps explain Chelsea’s poor form, but other factors have undoubtedly contributed.
John Terry’s absence has been all too noticeable. Chelsea’s captain was penalized with a four-match ban and then suffered a serious injury his first starting match back against Liverpool. Without Terry, Chelsea have made many uncharacteristic mistakes in their defending.
They have conceded far more goals than usual and even the typically dependable Ashley Cole has made judgment lapses which have cost Chelsea dearly. More importantly, perhaps, Chelsea have missed Terry’s leadership and their psychological weakness has been damaging. Without a captain and suffering several unfortunate losses, Chelsea’s dip in confidence was inevitable, and it has affected the team’s performance dramatically.
Frank Lampard was subbed-in during the second half of Saturday’s match after missing several matches for a calf injury. Lampard’s absence was not felt as deeply as Terry’s, but it certainly didn’t make Chelsea’s already diffident state any better.
As soon as he stepped on the pitch, Lampard shouted orders and directed players. His direction and experience were welcomed after Chelsea conceded a goal. It seemed that thoughts of victory were premature, especially given last week’s 1-3 defeat to West Ham after Chelsea had scored the opening goal.
The Chelsea fans have not been helping matters. They were yet another obstacle the team had to overcome. Supporters engaged in their now traditional 16-minute mark “One Di Matteo” song and even though Chelsea was in the lead during the second half, anti-Benitez chants could still be heard. While still hostile to Benitez, supporters were not as vociferous as they were immediately following Di Matteo’s sacking. Nonetheless, whether the fans will cease criticizing the Spaniard if he produces results is still questionable.
Di Matteo had always played the “Three Amigos”—Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata—together. Benitez has taken a different route that seems to be working for the team. Torres scored off of a great assist from Hazard and had a fair number of opportunities set up by Mata. Oscar started on the bench and was subbed-in at the twenty minute mark.
The new legs helped Chelsea, since Sunderland began to play with more heart than they had been during the first half. Benitez’s decision to split up Oscar, Hazard and Mata has been under scrutiny, but in Saturday’s match, he proved there is a method to his madness.
Confidence is the key to escaping from a slump, and Chelsea demonstrated that they are slowly but surely building theirs back up. Lampard’s return and Terry’s imminent return will certainly enliven the team.
Torres demonstrated that he is already feeling better, electing to take the penalty without hesitation. If Benitez can produce results, maybe he will quell some of the supporters’ criticism, which is something no one has been benefiting from lately.