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Rafa: Blues in driving seat for top-four finish

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Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez gives instructions to his team. Picture: Reuters/Denis Balibouse.

Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez gives instructions to his team. Picture: Reuters/Denis Balibouse.

Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez gives instructions to his team. Picture: Reuters/Denis Balibouse.

CHELSEA interim manager Rafael Benitez is taking nothing for granted despite knowing his team are now in touching distance of Champions League football.

Last season's European champions strengthened their hand in their battle with Arsenal and Tottenham for top-four places with a late 1-0 win over below-par Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The Blues, third in the table with a healthy goal difference, can effectively secure a place in the elite competition with victory in their midweek clash with fifth-placed Spurs.

Benitez said: "I think the goal difference is too big so if we can win we can be there, but obviously Tottenham are a very good team. It will be a final for both."

Chelsea find themselves in such a strong position after an 87th-minute shot from the outstanding Juan Mata found its way into the bottom corner of the United net via a deflection off Phil Jones.

It was a victory the visitors deserved against a United side whose intensity appears to have dropped since they secured the title.

The Londoners had hit the post through Oscar early on, while the game ended controversially when United defender Rafael was sent off for kicking out at fellow Brazilian David Luiz.

Benitez said: "It is massive for us. We knew that we had to get six or seven points to guarantee the top four.

 

Pleased

"We have got three points here. Now we play against Tottenham and we are in the driving seat.

"When the goal came we were really pleased and convinced it was an important step forward."

United manager Alex Ferguson was unhappy with the moments leading up to the sending off, feeling Rafael was elbowed twice by Luiz before he lashed out.

Luiz also attracted criticism for his reaction after falling to the ground in apparent agony but being caught on television smiling, while Oscar infuriated United players by waving an imaginary card.

Benitez claimed after the game he had not seen the incident.

He said: "I am not very interested. I have seen 200 incidents in the Premier League this year and it will change nothing."

Benitez remains a controversial and unpopular Chelsea boss and is set to leave the club at the end of the season.

Yet he still appears to be relishing the position and was an animated figure on the touchline throughout.

He was unwilling to talk about the flak he continues to receive from his own club's fans or speculation linking him with jobs in Germany.

He said: "I am just concentrating on Tottenham, and trying to enjoy today."

Benitez expects the team will continue to develop without him next season.

He said: "In January I was expecting some surprises but they didn't come so we have to carry on and keep working harder.

"We now just have to try to bring the best from our players.

"I think next year these players will have more experience.

"It depends on (Roman) Abramovich. I am sure the owner will spend some money and the team will be even better."

Even though a draw would have been a good result for the visitors, Benitez claimed he did not want to settle for 0-0.

He said: "When the goal came we were really pleased and convinced it was an important step forward.

"Obviously United, after winning the title, normally you can expect they are a little bit more relaxed.

 

Tempo

"My team-talk at half-time was trying to increase the tempo because I could see we were controlling, doing well but were still missing the high tempo that is necessary if you want to beat a team like United.

"I think we did it in the second half. It still wasn't perfect but enough for winning the game."

Ferguson admitted his side were subdued after watching them fail to score at home for the first time in 67 league games.

The Scot said: "I am disappointed. I think we have put the tools away. It looked that way to me.

"We made some changes of course. We needed to give (Tom) Cleverley, Anderson and Anders (Lindegaard) a game.

"But there was no edge to our game, Chelsea were the better team."

When asked if the team had mentally switched off after winning the league, Ferguson said: "I think so. That has a lot to do with it. It has been a long season."


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