Chelsea were last night in negotiations with the representatives of Demba Ba over a move for the Senegalese striker, with Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew admitting that he is powerless to keep him at St James' Park.
The £7m buy-out clause in Ba's contract poses a major problem for Newcastle, who are desperate to keep the player as their struggle to build on last season continued with a 7-3 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday. "Demba is really out of my hands and there's nothing I can do about it. What will be will be," Pardew said.
The move for Ba comes as Chelsea show the signs that Benitez is having a material affect on the team. An excellent 2-1 win against a fiercely competitive Everton side who had not lost at home since March extended the Spaniard's winning run in domestic football to six games.
Frank Lampard's two goals also reinforced his desire to stay beyond this summer, when his contract expires. The 34-year-old said last night that he did not know what the new year would provide for him. "I just hope it brings for me playing in a winning team," he said.
"I keep trying to give my best, as I've always done when I'm here. I'm enjoying playing again. I was injured for a while. I know there is a lot of speculation and talk but, for me, the enjoyable bit is being out there." The Chelsea fans sang "sign him up" after Lampard's goals. "The fans have been amazing," the midfielder said.
"They are the club. From the minute I came here they have been behind me. I've always got Chelsea in me for life because of what they have done for me since I've been here. They back the team, they back all the players in every match. I can't thank them enough."
However, Benitez, who said that goalkeeper Petr Cech would undergo a scan on a thigh/groin injury which forced his withdrawal at half-time, refused to offer Lampard any assurances.
"Lampard is under contract and showed his full commitment," he said. "My job is to keep him fit and if he can score more goals that will be great. He is a great player and a good pro.
"We try to get the best from him and at the end of the season who knows? I just want him fit, happy and scoring goals."
As regards the possibility of signing Ba, Benitez said: "We do not talk about our business in public. My job is to prepare the team for games and they will let me know. Ba plays for another team, so I do not like to talk about it."
Although Chelsea look like a side with the potential to challenge for the title, Benitez played down such talk: "We have a game in hand but we still have to win it. Our idea is to approach the competition thinking about one game at a time. We are not watching the table too much. We are just thinking about the next game and the next three points we will be trying to win. We'll see where we are after more games." (© Independent News Service)