It was around half an hour into Titan Airways flight ZT7321, somewhere over central France, when Fernando Torres offered up an assessment on his own return to prominence.
The striker had been asked whether he had improved as a player since his toils last term on the fringes of Chelsea's Champions League pursuit. "This season has been 'better', but still not at the level I want to be," he said. "It's different: a different team, a different style, very quick … It's not been an easy season for anyone."
It is still a season that boasts the potential to transform Torres's fortunes at the club. A year ago the Spain international was a clear back-up to Didier Drogba in the matches that mattered: a substitute scoring in stoppage time at Camp Nou but unused in an FA Cup final and reduced to a cameo in Munich on the greatest night in this club's recent history.
His principal involvement was in a Premier League campaign that saw Chelsea dwindle into sixth place, their priorities elsewhere. So unsettled had he become that, having not even been picked to take a penalty in the shoot-out in the Champions League final at the Allianz Arena, he sought clarification from the hierarchy as to his future role at the club.
And yet now, in a team in transition, he is integral in the one competition this side can still win, his form established and prolific in the Europa League. Confidence is flooding back into his game.
No other Chelsea outfield player has featured in all 540 minutes of this side's campaign in Europe's second competition. With Demba Ba cup-tied, Torres has been the only other recognised striker on the books. He has scored four times in six appearances, adding to the three in six Champions League group games before Christmas, his qualities being imposed upon Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest and Rubin Kazan.
Basel represent an awkward challenge, and it must be conceded that the standard of Europa League opposition contrasts markedly with those confronted en route to the European Cup last term. But Rafael Benítez can at least select Torres with confidence these days, even if the player himself acknowledges that he, and this side, are still in a stage of development.
This team have been transformed around their record signing, the onus resting on him and the older guard to tap into the newcomers' qualities. "New players have come in and they have been important players for the team," Torres said. "We are adapting to them. Much of the ability we have here depends on the talents of individuals – Juan [Mata], Eden [Hazard], Oscar and others. We have to learn to become a team, which is different. Normally when you're building a team it takes time, and it is coming together. We're playing more as a team now, especially in Europe and in some Premier League games as well. We need to stay together and keep improving.
"Personally, I also still have to adapt more. Against Barcelona and Bayern [Munich] last year we played very deep as a team, which was good for me. In the Premier League this season, though, we always have the ball and our opponents are much deeper, and it's more difficult for a player like me. But it's very good for players like Mata, Hazard and Oscar, and so good for the team. I just have to adapt. I've been changing a lot my style. Hopefully next season is going to be much better."
That was at least an acknowledgement that a player who cost £50m from Liverpool in January 2011 still has much to do to justify both that fee and, presumably, his selection next term should a Radamel Falcao or Mario Gomez arrive at Stamford Bridge. But there is a clear desire within him to maintain this year's progress and improve, a yearning to excel again on the biggest stage and, indeed, feel like a key performer both home and abroad for Chelsea.
Torres has undergone a role reversal from last year given his heavy involvement in Europe this time around. Given the need to finish in the top four, though, there is an argument that Ba, who tends to be used in more of the Premier League games‚ is featuring more often in the competition Chelsea must prioritise.
"Last year when Didier was here maybe he played two games, I played two, then at the end of the season he played the European games and I played the league games," said Torres. "Now it's been the opposite with Demba. But you have to understand this reality. One of us can't play all the games. The team is tired, not as fresh as before. We want to play every game but it is not up to us."
The Spaniard has not scored a Premier League goal since 23 December, though the striker recognises where next year's emphasis must lie. "I want to win the title," he said. "When you see Manchester United's players celebrating you can see how important the Premier League trophy is, and I want to bring it to Chelsea. I don't think we have to add too much. We have to believe in ourselves and believe we can win it next season.
"But, for now, we have the chance to win the Europa League. We're not the sort of team who would forget about it after winning the Champions League. It's a chance to win a trophy. Unfortunately at this stage of the season it's the only one we can win. But we have a chance to win the Champions League and the Europa League in consecutive seasons, and get into the Super Cup as well. It's not just a trophy. It gives us a chance to win another one." There is longer-term thinking in that. Torres still has targets to meet.
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