LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea’s interim manager Roberto Di Matteo backed beleaguered Spanish striker Fernando Torres on Friday to end a wretched goal drought stretching back 24 games to October.
“He (Torres) is a tremendous team player, a fantastic guy and we value him very much,” Di Matteo told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s home game against Stoke City in the Premier League.
“He trains hard and he had a great game in my opinion on Tuesday night,” the Italian added in reference to the 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round replay win at second tier Birmingham City.
“The only thing he lacked was a goal but I don’t really care who scores the goals in my team. For me it’s about the team ethic,” said Di Matteo.
“The goals will come for him. Everyone has moments when things don’t go as they want - it’s part of life.”
Di Matteo said he was not concerned that Torres appeared to turn down compatriot Juan Mata’s offer for him to take a second-half penalty against Birmingham.
“We’ve got designated penalty takers and it was Mata on Tuesday,” said the former Italy and Chelsea midfielder.
“It was simple and Mata followed instructions.”
Di Matteo took over last Sunday when Portuguese Andre Villas-Boas was sacked after a sequence of one victory in seven matches in all competitions.
Reports had been swirling in the media for several weeks about a rift between Villas-Boas and his players and the interim manager said he had spoken to the squad in a bid to get them all pulling in the same direction.
”I’ve had five long and busy days,“ Di Matteo explained. ”I’ve thrown myself into the job and I’ve just been trying to talk to all the players individually and get them on board.
“I feel I have everybody onside. I have spoken to almost all of the players because I believe this is a team effort.”
Asked if they were a difficult group to manage, Di Matteo replied: “Ask me again in a few weeks or a few months. I’ve been in charge for five days so I can’t answer that question yet”.
He said everyone had to take their share of the blame for Villas-Boas’s sacking.
”It has been a collective responsibility,“ added Di Matteo. ”We all know we are fifth in the table and we have obviously made mistakes.
”I know we are strong and we have a good team and we want to show we are better than where we are at the moment. We have to win games - it’s that simple.
“I don’t want to spend time discussing what went on earlier, I just want to look to the future. I’ve got two months to the end of the season to achieve our aims, our targets and this is what I‘m going to put my energy into,” said Di Matteo.
Chelsea have a fully-fit squad to choose from against Stoke for only the second time this season.
Captain John Terry seems likely to be recalled in central defence after being sidelined for six weeks by a knee problem and left back Ashley Cole is ready to return after missing the win over Birmingham with an ankle injury.
Editing by Ken Ferris