Since the arrival of interim coach Roberto Di Matteo, striker Fernando Torres says that Chelsea FC are "starting to enjoy things again, instead of suffering". There may be some suffering ahead for the Londoners at the Camp Nou on Tuesday but as he cast a respectful eye over Tuesday night's UEFA Champions League hosts, the Spanish international has reason to believe they can overcome FC Barcelona.
It has been a curious season for Chelsea. Poor league form prompted the removal of coach André Villas-Boas at the start of March and the Blues are still facing an uphill struggle to finish in the top four Premier League places. Yet, they have enjoyed a resurgence in form under Di Matteo, and Torres says the caretaker's team ethic has been key.
Di Matteo, who spent six years at Stamford Bridge, has spent the last seven weeks stressing the importance of putting the club first. And after ten victories and just one defeat in 14 matches, his words are clearly getting through.
"His message is clearly aimed at team spirit ‒ fighting," Torres told UEFA.com. "You have to fight and then your talent will come through afterwards. When all of that comes together, you'll overcome your opponent most of the time. But everybody understands what he wants ‒ it is all for the club. He came from this club, he played here, so he is from here."
Beating most opponents is one thing, but lowering the colours of the European club champions is quite another. Torres is full of admiration for the likes of Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, alongside whom he has shared major international triumphs such as the 2002 UEFA European Under-19 Championship, UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but he believes he knows how to best them.
"It's clear that Barcelona are a step ahead of all other clubs. They have reached the last five semi-finals, and that's not easy at all, but this is football: the best team doesn't always win. Xavi and Iniesta are players who dictate the rhythm of the game. When you play against them, you need to know that they are guiding the game.
Many teams who play Barcelona think that you have to steal the ball from them, but I don't think that's possible. You have to use different weapons against them. If you want to steal the ball, you won't manage it and you'll get tired, and then create more space for your opponent."
So far Chelsea's methods are bearing fruit. Though Barcelona enjoyed 72% of ball possession in the first leg and Di Matteo's side mustered just one shot on target compared to the Azulgrana's six, it is the Londoners who lead 1-0.
Torres remains on the bench throughout last week's match but started both quarter-final ties against SL Benfica, making a telling contribution to set up Salomon Kalou's winning goal in Lisbon. Much is made of his lack of goals in Chelsea blue, but the former Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC striker insists that his game is about more than that.
"This team has slightly changed the way I play, because of their style," said the 28-year-old. "For me the most important thing is to score goals ‒ that's what I practise every day ‒ but we all know that this season has been tough and the team is the most important thing. It would be a catastrophe to miss out on the Champions League [next season], and we must be prepared to do anything to achieve this. It doesn't matter who plays, who scores, who gives the assists and who stays out. The important thing is that we are successful." Starting at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.
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