The smile lighting up Rafael Benítez's face at the mention of Fernando Torres's name spoke volumes. The £50m striker's two goals – and creation of a third – as Chelsea won 3-1 at Sunderland not only gave the interim manager his first Premier League win since taking charge at Stamford Bridge but offered hope that he might yet make a success of the job.
"I said before that, if the team played well and created chances, Fernando would score goals," said Benítez who saw Torres volley home Chelsea's first goal, claim the second from the penalty spot and conjure a third for Juan Mata. "For me, the really positive thing is that Fernando has a lot more confidence."
The former Liverpool manager and his striker may still have some way to go to reprise their best moments at Anfield but Benítez, Torres and the rest of the Chelsea squad headed to Newcastle airport and a charter flight to the World Club Championship in Japan in good heart on Saturday night.
"We can still improve but I hope we'll have time to train and talk in Japan," said Benítez, who clearly believes his work at Chelsea is already paying off. He sees Torres's first League goals since October – some 12 hours and 30 minutes of football – as hard evidence that the Chelsea squad are acclimatising to yet another manager while gaining a deeper understanding of the nuances of their star striker's game. "I've tried to adjust things in training and the players are more confident and know what to do now," Benítez said. "The team has a clear idea of what we want to do and this win will be fantastic for the confidence."
Martin O'Neill could do with borrowing some. Despite a spirited, generally much improved performance, Sunderland dropped into the bottom three. They have won only one of their past 23 Premier League games and have a vital match at home to Reading on Tuesday. "We played very strongly," O'Neill said. "Even though we've been defeated we feel we've taken something positive out of it but Tuesday's a big game. We're in the bottom three and it's really tough but we'll fight our way out of it. I think we've got enough talent and, more importantly, self-belief but we've got to be really, really strong on Tuesday night."