Yokohama, Japan – After taking four games to register a victory under Rafael Benitez, the Chelsea squad appears to be warming to the Spaniard's meticulous methods with a run of three consecutive wins.
By racking up 12 goals in the process, five of them scored by a resurgent Fernando Torres, Chelsea's 3-1 win over Monterrey at the Club World Cup on Thursday provided the latest evidence of a marked progression under their interim manager.
“We have improved as a team under Benitez,” Torres, so prolific for his Spanish compatriot while they were together at Liverpool, told reporters in Yokohama.
“We are more compact and difficult to break down,” added Spain's World Cup and European championship winner. “I think we are better in all departments.”
Benitez again refused to take the credit for Torres's resurgence after the striker scored in their semi-final in Japan, but midfielder Frank Lampard called for Chelsea fans to show patience.
The Stamford Bridge faithful have jeered Benitez since he took over from Italian Roberto Di Matteo last month but Lampard said the new manager deserved the chance to prove himself at Chelsea.
“Obviously we know the atmosphere is different,” said Lampard, asked about the booing of Benitez, whose appointment triggered anger among Chelsea fans.
“Maybe that doesn't help us quite so much. But as players we have to concentrate on our game regardless.”
Lampard, whose future at Chelsea is unclear with his contract expiring at the end of the season, said Blues supporters had the right to express their feelings.
“Chelsea is the fans,” the 34-year-old England international added. “It's what Chelsea is. You have to respect how they feel.
“You have to respect Roberto Di Matteo and at the same time respect that Rafa is going to try to do the best job he can at Chelsea.”
The vitriol displayed towards Benitez, fallout from Chelsea's epic Champions League clashes against Liverpool, was evident again in Thursday's game in Yokohama.
Chelsea's travelling contingent of around a thousand fans were singing “There's only one Di Matteo” before Juan Mata cut the chants short with the game's opener in the 17th minute.
Benitez is the fourth coach involved in Chelsea's long road to Japan that was secured by their first Champions League title.
Carlo Ancelotti qualified them for Europe by finishing second in the Premier League, Andre Villas-Boas got them out of the group stage and Di Matteo won the final in May.
Despite the chopping and changing at Chelsea, Lampard said the players owed it to the fans to beat South American champions Corinthians in Sunday's Club World Cup final.
“The Chelsea fans were great,” the Chelsea vice-captain said. “It's a long way to ask them to come, but they put their hands in their pockets to come over here and that's fantastic.”
“We know how much it means to Brazilian teams and Brazilian fans,” added Lampard, aware some 15,000 Corinthians fans have made the trip to the Far East.
“You'll see a bit extra to the atmosphere on Sunday.” – Reuters