Ahead of their clash, Bleacher Report spoke with Blues striker Fernando Torres about the past season and his aspirations for the 2013-14 campaign.
Fernando, welcome back to the United States. How does it feel to be here with Chelsea again, facing your Premier League foe Manchester City?
It’s a real pleasure to come here. It’s always the same when we come here and the reception is warm. There are many Latinos here who do not get to see us play very often, so you can see the passion they have. Football is such a big thing here and we’re surprised to see so many fans wearing the Chelsea shirt.
We’re looking forward to the game and it’s been nice to have a couple of days off, walking around the city and meeting the people. We really appreciate the welcome we have had.
Looking at the club going forward, there is a lot of speculation about who the next manager will be at Chelsea and Jose Mourinho appears a strong contender to return. How would it be for you to play under him?
Well, the season is not finished yet so it’s important we show respect for Rafa [Benitez] as he is our manager right now. We know he is going to leave, but we have to wait until the club announces the new manager.
As you say, everybody is talking about Mourinho and he is obviously one of the top managers in the world. Chelsea is looking for a new manager and Jose Mourinho is free, so everybody is going to link him with the club because of his past and what he has said in the last few months.
We have players here who enjoyed working with him and have great memories of his time at Chelsea, so we’ll see what happens. Working under a manager like him is a big motivation for any player. But we must show respect for Rafa in his last week.
On a personal level, this has been your best year at Chelsea, with you breaking the 20-goal mark for the first time at the club. A lot of your goals came in the Europa League, so what was it about that competition that made you come alive?
I scored 23 goals this season, which is closer to the statistic that I should have. I’m thinking that I can still do better in the future, though. I think I scored a lot of goals in the Europa League as I was rested in the league matches. I was the only striker available in the competition, so I played all the games and to score in Europe is always nice—especially when you help the team win trophies.
This season has been a strange one. We started well, were top of the league, but then had a couple of months where we lost too many points and couldn’t reach the top of the table above Manchester United and City.
We were focusing on the Europa League, but in the end it was OK. We know we have to be consistent next time.
You say you want to improve, so what will be different for 2013-14?
Obviously, to score more goals. Always. This season I scored 23 goals and next season I want to score more. The team is going to be better next season, the Premier League is going to be better and so too the Champions League.
I want to improve my goals and especially what I give the team. I can be better next season, I am sure about that.
How important was it to end your Premier League goal drought before the end of the season, which you did against Everton on the last day?
That goal was important as it secured third place for the Champions League, which was our priority. We were really disappointed to drop out of the competition when we did as it’s so important for this club to be in the Champions League. That goal helped us do that.
As you say, that goal secured Champions League football, while you also scored in the Europa League final. How does it make you feel when Chelsea are linked with so many high-profile strikers?
It’s the summer months and all the big clubs are linked with top players. We’ve discussed the rumors with Jose Mourinho and players are no different. Goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, strikers—the summer comes and the rumors start. A number of players get linked, but at the end of the day only three or four are signed. But whoever comes to Chelsea is going to be made to feel welcome.
Was the belief in your ability and place in the team ever tested when Demba Ba signed in January and also with those rumors about other strikers?
The rumors aren’t coming from the club. It’s normal, though. When I was at Atletico Madrid I was linked with every team in the world and at Liverpool it was the same. And now at Chelsea it is no different—the rumors never stop. The rumors are one thing and the reality, another.
When Daniel Sturridge left for Liverpool, we needed to sign Demba. It is normal for clubs to have three or four strikers.
Has there been anything that Rafa Benitez did to help you improve this season?
I think Rafa helped the team and not me especially. The games I have played under him are less than the managers before, but I have been doing a lot of hard work to increase my level. Everybody has helped me—Benitez, the fitness coach and my teammates. Benitez has helped the team and all the players improve.
Despite the drama of losing managers in recent seasons, Chelsea have still won major honours, including two European trophies. How do you think the team has managed to do this?
Since I’ve been here, I think it looks a lot worse than it really is. The results are good, as we’ve won the FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League. Hopefully we can build on what we have achieved in the last couple of seasons and next year we have to target more trophies. The Premier League has been difficult to win, but it’s a trophy the fans want and we do, too.
• Fernando Torres was speaking ahead of Chelsea’s match against Manchester City at Yankee Stadium on Saturday May 25. For tickets, visit: www.yankees.com/soccer
• As a mark of respect for those affected by the tornado in Orlando on Tuesday, Chelsea and Manchester City have joined forces to help raise money for the Oklahoma Recovery Fund. One dollar from every ticket sold for the game at Busch Stadium on Thursday will be donated, while both clubs will match the donation. Both teams will also wear commemorative black armbands as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives. Members of the St Louis Fire Department will also be collecting donations at the gates.