independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Benitez may miss lap of honour

Rafael Benitez is hoping to end his Chelsea tenure with a win against Everton

Rafael Benitez has declined to reveal if he will take part in his Chelsea squad's lap of appreciation following Sunday's final match of the season at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez, who refused to entertain the possibility of a play-off with Arsenal for third place in the Barclays Premier League, has fulfilled his brief in his seven months in charge, by achieving qualification for the Champions League and winning silverware, Wednesday's Europa League triumph over Benfica in Amsterdam.

Yet, due to his prior association with Liverpool and the vitriol directed towards him earlier this season, Benitez was reluctant to comment on whether he will join his squad in accepting the acclaim of supporters following this weekend's Barclays Premier League match with Everton.

"I will try to concentrate on the game, enjoy, hopefully, the game and see what happens after," said Benitez, who said he had received messages of congratulations from fans through his website. "What I can guarantee is that I will try to win the game. That is the main thing."

Benitez's November appointment as successor to Champions League-winning boss Roberto Di Matteo was met with a hostile reception from many Chelsea supporters. Ovations for Di Matteo and Jose Mourinho continued throughout the campaign, until his February comments at Middlesbrough when he urged supporters to back the team, rather than barrack him.

The Europa League winners play their 69th game of a gruelling and tumultuous campaign on Sunday, but there is a slim possibility there will be a further match this term. If Chelsea and Arsenal finish the season level on points, goal difference and goals scored, a play-off will be necessary to decide third place and the automatic Champions League qualification spot, even though the Blues beat the Gunners twice this term.

It would create a further scheduling problem in a congested season for the Blues, who next week have an end-of-season tour to the United States scheduled ahead of the international window.

On the prospect of a play-off, Benitez said: "It's too early to talk about that. We consider that we will not go to the play-off, so we prefer not to discuss that. If we have to do it, the rules are the rules. I don't think it's ideal, but in trying to avoid this situation, we will score goals and we will try to win."

Benitez believes his side deserve third place, adding: "It's always important to finish well. We have been working so hard during the season that it would be a pity if we cannot guarantee top three.''

David Moyes takes charge of Everton for the final time at Stamford Bridge on Sunday before he succeeds Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. And Benitez has praised the job the Scot has done at Goodison Park, saying: "I think he's done a good job. He has been for years keeping the team at the top, in the top eight, top six, top five. We were rivals for a while, we will be rivals on Sunday. After this game I wish him all the best."

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