Di Matteo backs Torres to shine
Roberto Di Matteo believes Fernando Torres can finally put his miserable run behind him after the Chelsea striker ended his goal drought in the Blues' 5-2 win over Leicester.
Torres had gone five months without a goal since he last found the back of the net against Genk in October, but the Spaniard was back on the scoresheet with a double in Sunday's FA Cup quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge.
It might only have been a mid-table Championship side providing the opposition but, after going 25 hours and 41 minutes of playing time without a goal, Torres wasn't complaining as his scuffed 67th minute finish and an 86th minute header eased Chelsea's path into the semifinals.
Blues interim boss Di Matteo hopes the much-maligned star – who has only scored seven goals in 13 months at Chelsea – will be able to use the confidence boost to silence the critics who have dubbed him a £50 million flop.
"I thought Fernando had a terrific game, he fought very hard for the team and managed to score a couple of goals too. It's wonderful for him," Di Matteo said.
"I think the whole team and all the supporters are happy for him because he works so hard for the team. He is a great team player. When you work hard in life you get rewarded.
"I didn't mind when he wasn't scoring because as long as we win that is all that matters. But hopefully his confidence is going to be very high now."
Andre Villas-Boas appeared to grow increasingly frustrated with Torres during his brief reign as Chelsea boss and the player's confidence dwindled as a result.
But Di Matteo has made a point of speaking to Torres in a bid to boost his morale and, while it is too early to hail a return to top form, this was at least a first glimpse of a revival.
"He is not only a good player, he is a good guy. I have a lot of belief in him and the other players," Di Matteo said.
"I have been speaking individually to all the players and that includes him.
"But I wouldn't want to take any credit for that. It's down to the boy's immense belief and work-rate on the pitch."
It was also an emotional day for Gary Cahill, who opened the scoring for Chelsea less than 24 hours after learning that his former Bolton teammate Fabrice Muamba was fighting for his life after collapsing on the pitch during a match at Tottenham.
"We spoke to Gary before the game. He was shaken like everyone in the football community," Di Matteo said.
"I thought he had a good game in the circumstances, but our thoughts and prayers are with Fabrice."
Just two weeks ago, Chelsea's season was in danger of imploding following Villas-Boas's sacking amid rumours that player power was out of control at the Bridge.
But four successive wins later and Chelsea are suddenley cresting a wave of optimism. They can look forward to an FA Cup semifinal next month, as well as a Champions League quarterfinal against Benfica.
Di Matteo has played his part with a determined attempt to get his senior players back on side.
Now he has to keep their focus on getting back into the Premier League's top four.
Beating the likes of Leicester is one thing, but a victory in Wednesday's trip to Manchester City would be a real declaration of intent from a team widely written off as well past their best for the last 18 months.
"Every game we have won so far has given the team as a whole and players individually a little more confidence and this win just cements that," Di Matteo said.
"We are just happy we have overcome every hurdle so far. You don't really have time to enjoy the wins because the next game comes on Wednesday.
"We are happy we are in the semis and now we are focusing on Man City."
Leicester boss Nigel Pearson added: "We gave ourselves a mountain to climb by conceding two early goals.
"When you play against this type of quality and your defensive play is not spot on, you will get punished."