BASEL, Switzerland, April 25 – Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez says his club’s Europa League run has helped Fernando Torres rediscover his confidence and he is banking on the Spanish striker to maintain his form in Thursday’s semi-final first leg at FC Basel.
Torres has started only six of Chelsea’s 13 league games since Senegal striker Demba Ba arrived from Newcastle United in January, but he has enjoyed a new lease of life in the Europa League.
With Ba cup-tied in the competition, the former Liverpool striker has not missed a minute of Chelsea’s campaign and he scored three goals in the 5-4 aggregate defeat of Rubin Kazan in the quarter-finals.
His goal in the away leg two weeks ago took his tally for the season to 20 and Benitez believes that, with the aid of a specialised fitness programme, the 29-year-old’s self-belief is flooding back.
“He had more confidence, especially at the beginning, when he was scoring goals, which is what a striker needs. Then he lost a bit of confidence,” Benitez said on Wednesday.
“But he’s doing a specific programme for his strength, so he’s sharper now and because he’s scored some goals, he’s got more confidence. We’ll see if he can carry on tomorrow.
“I praise my staff for that — the technical staff and physical coaches, who are working with him every day, on different things.”
Torres says his team-mates are determined to atone for their early exit from the Champions League by succeeding in the Europa League, and despite his early struggles in a Chelsea shirt, he insists that his commitment to their cause remains absolute.
“People said we didn’t care about the Europa League and would be more focused in the cup or the league, but it’s not true — we’re already in the semi-finals and we want to go through,” he said.
“The team are playing well, and it’s easy for a striker to score when the team are playing well.”
He added: “I have three more years’ contract, so I’m expecting to stay at least three years here.
“We won the Champions League last season and hopefully we can win the Europa League, which is our priority, as well as the top four (in the Premier League).
“We want to go back to the Champions League next season and keep winning trophies. I think we have a great squad and a young squad to build on.
“We are sure that we are a great team and we want to show everyone. I would like to be involved.”
Benitez anticipates a “tough game” against Basel, but hopes to be able to call on England defenders Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole, who both trained with the squad at St Jakob-Park on Wednesday after spells on the sidelines.
Basel are appearing in their first semi-final at continental level and are bidding to become the first Swiss team to reach a major European final.
Coach Murat Yakin only took charge in October, but saw his side overcome Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Zenit St Petersburg in the knockout phase before eliminating Tottenham Hotspur on penalties in the quarter-finals.
Basel have gone six home games unbeaten in this season’s competition, and having also sensationally knocked out Manchester United in last season’s Champions League, Yakin says they have nothing to fear.
“We’ve had very positive results against English teams. We want to continue this run of being unbeaten at home,” he said.
“The team have produced some great performances, especially at home, so we want to do the same again — play one great game, maybe one OK game, and reach the final. And we believe in it. We have nothing to lose.”
Yakin also confirmed that midfielder Valentin Stocker should be able to play despite sustaining a knock in training.