It was a reflection of Fernando Torres's improved mood that, approaching an hour after the final whistle at the Veltins-Arena on Tuesday night, the Spaniard was still eagerly offering up assessments of Chelsea's progress and his own recent upturn in fortune to anyone who cared listen. Schalke had been deflated by his brace, victory thrusting the London club to the summit of their Champions League group. "I'm feeling well and, if you work hard, everything comes," the striker said. "It sometimes takes lots of time but, in the end, it will come."
In Torres's case, displays like this have been long overdue. His Chelsea career, which already incorporates triumphs in the European Cup and Europa League, chalked up its 100th start in Germany and yet still feels to have been a series of false dawns. That explosive second-half display at Tottenham Hotspur at the end of last month provoked the latest swathe of optimism that the 29-year-old might be rediscovering the form which had earned him the £50m move from Liverpool to London. It says much that the period since has actually included a suspension, a fortunate escape from lengthier sanction for that catty scratch at Jan Vertonghen, and a knee ligament injury. Yet events in Gelsenkirchen suggested an upbeat rhythm has not been interrupted.
Torres was everything José Mourinho could have asked him to be against Schalke. There was slippery pace along the turf when he was allowed to turn and run at backpedalling defenders on a night the visitors flourished on the counterattack. He was industrious, claiming back possession in the tackle and tracking into defensive areas to break up Schalke attacks. He was even strong in the air, rising to thump a glorious header from distance on to the angle of cross and bar early in the second period. Both his goals were predatory, poached calmly while markers panicked.
There is an irony that Rafael Benítez, the man who had brought the best out of this player at Anfield, had rarely benefited from his compatriot proving this effective. Mourinho, who might have had his doubts about the striker upon arrival, has worked on body and mind to make him feel wanted.
Early signs are promising. Torres enjoyed picking off the Germans on the break, even if he was equally at ease taking that derby to Tottenham last month, and the management's approach may just suit him. "We're basing our football in the last few games on being strong in defence and exploring the spaces we have playing the counterattack," the striker said. "It's a way that Chelsea didn't used to play, but we have players that can play in that way." That may have been an assessment of how they have played since he joined the club, but spring on the counter does seem this side's natural style, particularly in trickier contests. Torres has been here before with promising spurts of form, and the key to his revival will be if it can be maintained.
Manchester City on Sunday will provide more of a test for a forward who enjoyed the Europa League run last term and has registered four times to date this term, but boasts only one Premier League goal since 23 December. That record has to be transformed before everyone will be convinced his class is truly restored. "But hopefully this is the start of many games in a row scoring goals," he added. "There are lots of important games coming now, Man City, Arsenal and games that are important to get to the top of the Premier League, to go through in the Capital One Cup. So I'm ready to play if I have to play, and ready to help from outside if I have to be on the bench. We are in a squad and we need everyone together to reach the target. The manager talks with me like he talks with everyone else, but I know he likes people who work. It's all about work. Work hard and you will have the reward."
Mourinho, like Torres, had needed this display. Rewind to last week and the only plunder mustered by Chelsea's trio of forwards this season amounted to Torres's opener in the Uefa Super Cup final against Bayern Munich back in August and his second goal at Swindon Town in the League Cup last month. Demba Ba is underused and always feels like a stop-gap. Samuel Eto'o, recently arrived from what the management has consistently dismissed as a lucrative retirement with Anzhi Makhachkala, was still rusty and unconvincing. Every time Romelu Lukaku ruffled feathers while on loan at Everton, the focus fell firmly back on those misfiring alternatives he had left behind at Stamford Bridge.
Yet Torres is not alone in demonstrating flashes of improvement. Ba's muscular display at Norwich had been encouraging, and Eto'o will have taken heart from his own goalscoring display against Cardiff on Saturday. "He needs time, not because he's a young player but because, in his career, he played in Spain and Italy – OK, also a bit in Russia – which are countries and championships completely different to the Premier League," Mourinho said. "He needs time to adapt. I'd worked with him before at Internazionale so I knew him, so his ability is not a surprise for me. But I remember speaking to John [Terry] after his first day here and he was impressed because Samuel had made an immediate impact with the players.
"The game against Cardiff was good for him, not just for the decisive goal but for his contribution. His movement and anticipation were very good. Sure, a striker can work very well for the team, but it's the goal that a striker scores that gives him the confidence and the extra motivation he needs. Normally now he's happier. It's not a surprise for me or the players, but there was a question mark for everyone else: is he still the same player? Can he adapt to the Premier League at 32? I think he will because he's a very good player."
Unsettling newly promoted opponents is one thing, wounding the likes of City quite another. Eto'o, Ba and, above all, Torres must prove these glimpses of quality can be maintained. But, for now, there is promise in an area of Chelsea's side that only recently had appeared to be their weak point.