Everyone loves to be loved and footballers are no different. Put an arm around them, smother them in praise and, hey presto, they shall deliver. And who knows? It may just be the making of Fernando Torres, the £50m misfit who could barely buy a goal but who, at last, is emerging as the potent threat of old.

Under André Villas-Boas, the young pup of a previous Chelsea manager, Torres was subjected to little more than a tough-love regime. Sit on the bench, Villas-Boas would instruct, speak when you are spoken to and perhaps, just perhaps, you'll get a game near the end. It didn't work.

But under the more sympathetic and hands-on approach of Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea's interim first-team coach, Torres is starting to flourish. Not quite in the rampant style of his Liverpool days, not yet, but the indications – as again witnessed against Aston Villa on Saturday – are positive.

Torres had a hand in all four goals as Chelsea overcame the second-half hiccup of letting slip a 2-0 lead. First, he had a shot blocked by Shay Given, allowing Daniel Sturridge to poach his 12th goal of the season; then he distracted Nathan Baker at a corner, affording Branislav Ivanovic the space to bundle the ball home.

The Spaniard then flicked on another corner, giving Ivanovic a second successful bite at the cherry; then, best of all, Torres thundered in a cross-shot after Sturridge's lightning burst in stoppage time. Cue celebrations and the broadest of grins, not seen that often since he left Anfield in January last year. Amazing what a bit of TLC can do.

"It was an important goal for him," Ivanovic said. "Fernando has been going well and playing well all over the pitch. He's been doing everything for the team and I think he deserved that goal. Of course, he has felt the pressure and so it was important for us to support him. He knows he has had the support of all of us and that we will do everything we can for him.

"We know how good he is. We've seen that every day in training. And we know how much he has given us. He doesn't just play for himself but he plays for the team. After the game, he didn't really say anything. But I went up to him and said 'Thank you for the two assists'."

The jury is still out. Four goals in the Premier League for Chelsea, and eight in total, is a poor return for such a massive investment. Yet five starts in Di Matteo's eight matches in charge appear to have re-energised a lost soul. "He's enjoying himself," Di Matteo observed. "He's enjoying his playing, he's got a smile on his face, he's confident." It is a confidence that appears to have spread throughout the team since Villas-Boas departed abruptly four weeks ago, with Di Matteo having overseen six victories during his short stint at the helm. A seventh on Wednesday night, when Chelsea take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Benfica at Stamford Bridge, can only enhance the Italian's chances of taking over permanently. "No, honestly, I don't think about the future," Di Matteo said. "That's not important. What is important is that on Wednesday we qualify for the next round of the Champions League."

Onwards and upwards for Chelsea but Villa seem to be caught in a downward spiral, much of it not of their own making. To lose key players such as Alan Hutton, Charles N'Zogbia, Richard Dunne and Darren Bent to injury is unfortunate; to be deprived of the services of their captain, Stilian Petrov, who has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, is the cruellest blow of all.

Take a name-check of the Villa squad on Saturday and even the most avid Holte Ender would have struggled to identify some of Alex McLeish's young ones. Daniel Johnson, Derrick Williams, Samir Carruthers and Jack Grealish sat on the bench in splendid anonymity. Still, though, Villa managed to make a decent fist of it and drew level at 2-2 as Chelsea's defensive frailties reappeared. James Collins powered in a header from a long throw from Eric Lichaj that would have done Rory Delap proud and then Lichaj stretched at the far post to meet a Marc Albrighton cross.

Depleted though they might be, and with the relegation pack closing, Villa should be able to avoid the drop. McLeish, their manager, appears more weary by the match but remains upbeat. "We can't rely on other results going for us," he said. "We've got to take care of our own work and we've got enough games left to turn it."