Monday 14 October 2019

Benitez: Chelsea in Champions League driving seat

Juan Mata scored late on for Chelsea before Manchester United were reduced to 10-men
Juan Mata scored late on for Chelsea before Manchester United were reduced to 10-men

By Andy Hampson

Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez hailed a "massive" victory after his side tightened their grip on a Champions League place with a narrow win at Manchester United.

Benitez's men, who have a healthy advantage on goal difference, can now effectively secure a top-four spot with victory over Spurs at Stamford Bridge in midweek.

The Blues' interim manager said: "It is massive for us.

"We knew that we have to get six or seven points to guarantee the top four and we have got three points here.

"Now we play against Tottenham and we are in the driving seat."

Chelsea had the upper hand throughout against a United side who appeared to have let their intensity levels drop after securing their 20th domestic title.

They still did enough to frustrate the Londoners but 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.

"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."

Former Liverpool manager Benitez remains a controversial and unpopular choice of manager at Stamford Bridge and is destined to leave the club at the end of the season.

Yet despite continuing to suffer abuse from Chelsea fans, he is close to securing the tangible success of a Champions League spot and a trophy in the Europa League.

He said: "I don't want repeat and repeat the same things - with all the circumstances around the games, the squad we have not being too big, Africa Cup of Nations, Japan - you put everything together, and we are still there, doing well, with a lot of semi-finals and final in the Club World Cup.

"It is what we had to do and we are doing that."

Benitez was an animated figure throughout on the touchline and appears to be relishing the remaining days he has in the job.

He said: "I have to do my job until the end of the season and I will do it.

"I am a professional. I will try to concentrate on that. The other things are not my decision.

"When I came here I was convinced we could do really well.

"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."

Benitez confirmed playmaker Eden Hazard missed the game with a calf injury and will be assessed before the Tottenham match.

Ferguson admitted his side, who had Rafael sent off in the closing stages, were subdued after watching them fail to score at home for the first time in 67 league games.

The Scot told MUTV: "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 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.

"The final big effort was last week against Arsenal. Today, the edge to the game was off."

Ferguson had no complaints about the goal.

He said: "I don't think Wayne (Rooney) was fouled (prior to the goal), but the referee was giving us nothing anyway.

"It was a bit lucky, the goal, it was deflected off Phil Jones. It was so late in the game there is not a lot you can do about that."

United ended the game with 10 men after Rafael's dismissal for kicking David Luiz.

Ferguson told Sky Sports: "Unfortunately it was controversial, it is like that a lot of times when you play against Chelsea.

"But we can't complain, we didn't play well enough."

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had no complaints about the result and criticised his team's showing.

"We took our foot off the pedal in a big way - Chelsea deserved to win, there is often controversial incidents when we play Chelsea, but we can't complain, we didn't play well enough," he told Sky Sports.

Ferguson was referring to an incident in the 88th minute when Rafael saw red after kicking out at David Luiz.

The United boss thought the Brazilian was provoked by his fellow countryman and expressed his disappointment in the display of referee Howard Webb.

"He retaliates, the player who retaliates always gets the bigger penalty. He [Luiz] has elbowed him twice, but he [Rafael] should know better," he said.

"The referee hasn't even seen it and has gone with the fact that Luiz rolled about and that's convinced him it's a red card.

"We weren't getting anything out of the referee anyway. I can't make any excuses for terrible performance.

"They surrounded the referee all day and I thank that affected the referee."

Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez refused to discuss the incident, saying he did not see what happened and was keen to look forward to Wednesday's encounter.

"I didn't see the incident or replays," he said. "I try to enjoy when we win, it's a situation you can see 20 times on TV, but it won't change anything.

"For us every game is massive now. Playing against the champions was tough and we did very well .

"We have to beat Tottenham. It will not be easy."

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