What a fantastic diversion the Club World Cup may prove to be for Chelsea. By the end of the tournament, comprising of just two games for the West London club, the squad will have had over a week of isolated training away from the glare of the English media, and possibly another piece of silverware to add to the groaning shelves of their trophy room.
Going into the tournament on the back of a 6-1 thumping of Nordsjaelland in the Champions League, despite exiting that competition, and a 3-1 away win at Sunderland, another morale boosting win on Thursday morning against Monterrey has followed. Chelsea looked serene at times against the Mexicans, Fernando Torres adding his fifth in three games and beginning to look like the natural finisher of old. While Benitez was roundly mocked for his recent comment about the defensive qualities of Torres’ game, the striker’s all-round contribution to the team shouldn’t be in doubt. His sublime cross on the outside of the boot to set up Juan Mata that led to Chelsea’s third and decisive goal was a joy to watch. Mata, for his part, is arguably Chelsea’s most consistent performer this season, and currently in stunning form himself.
So Chelsea are in the enviable position of having a rejuvenated Torres and to be playing in a final in which the club may announce itself as, officially at least, the best in the World. However, what shouldn’t be underestimated is how important the aforementioned time out from the rigours of the Premier League could be to them. Essentially, the team are playing two exhibition games in which Rafael Benitez and his new side can forget about the boo-boys and problems at home and build on the victories that they came into the tournament with. As was witnessed against Monterrey, the belief and togetherness that has been a hallmark of the side since Jose Mourinho’s reign as manager (albeit with a blip under Andre Villas Boas), is still evident.
There is little pressure from home on the blues to win the tournament, but if they can take this form into Sunday’s final against Brazilians Corinthians (arguably a bigger test than Monterrey) and win the competition, then you won’t find many Chelsea fans complaining. Perhaps then this also offers Benitez a chance to silence at least some of the virulent opposition that has greeted his appointment as interim boss. A trophy and the global exposure of the competition will please Abramovich and give some justification, he may feel, to his decision to fire Roberto Di Matteo and bring in Benitez. The fragile confidence of Torres can continue to emerge from the torpor of the past couple of seasons and so add a previously absent goal scoring threat to the side. Add to that the return to the side of the injured talismanic captain John Terry in the near future, and the rest of the season needn’t look so bad after all to the Stamford Bridge faithful.
At the start of the season, I picked Chelsea as champions in waiting. Their early form seemed to justify my belief in a side with an exciting midfield dripping with skill featuring the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar and Ramires. If Chelsea can keep up the momentum they’re beginning to build, there’s no reason that their early form can’t return, and it may not be such a fanciful notion to suggest that the two-horse title race might just have room for a third runner.