Wednesday 17 January 2018

Benitez: We want to win the Europa League

Chelsea's manager Rafa Benitez
Chelsea's manager Rafa Benitez

Matt McGeehan

CHELSEA interim boss Rafael Benitez is determined that last season's Champions League winners take the Europa League seriously, beginning with the last-32 first leg at Sparta Prague.

The match at the Generali Arena is Chelsea's first away fixture in Europe since Roberto Di Matteo was sacked following the holders' exit from the Champions League group stages.

"This is a massive city, massive club and a massive competition," Benitez said.

"We are really pleased to be here. Obviously, you cannot change things. The Champions League is a massive competition, but the Europa League is also a massive competition.

"We play against an historic team. We're really pleased and, for me, I try to give my players the right message.

"We know it will be tough. It's against a great team, a great club and a great city."

Benitez has a contract until the end of the season and would not look towards the possibility of taking permanent control should Chelsea win the Europa League.

"We have to concentrate on the future and the future is tomorrow," said Benitez, whose position could yet be under threat with four wins in 11 games.

"I cannot talk about what will happen in three months' time. We have to concentrate on this competition - it's quite difficult - and tomorrow will be a tough game, so that is my priority."

The Blues are at near full strength, with David Luiz suspended, Demba Ba ineligible and Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel rested following their African Nations Cup win with Nigeria.

Captain John Terry was the main fitness concern for Chelsea after missing the 4-1 Barclays Premier League win over Wigan with an inflammation on his knee. He is fit to be selected.

Benitez said: "There was no reaction to his knee (from training), that is positive. It's a question of time."

Even in Prague, Benitez cannot escape questions on Fernando Torres and his former club Liverpool.

Torres has scored one in 12, but is Benitez's only strike option due to the absences of Ba and Moses.

"It's a problem," Benitez said.

"We'll try to keep Fernando fit, playing well, hopefully scoring goals.

"If we don't have Fernando for any reason we'll have to manage. Victor Moses will come back and be an option.

"We can play without a striker like Spain. We'll see."

Benitez again defended the record of the European Championship and World Cup winner.

"The perception is that Fernando has not scored goals - that is not true," he said.

"He has scored 15 or 16 goals. He's not scored in a couple of games, but he was playing as our lone striker for maybe 10 games.

"When you play two games a week it's not easy for the striker. I said when we signed Demba Ba that would be good for him.

"I think he will score goals again."

On Liverpool, a contentious issue with the Blues fans, Benitez was asked about Vladimir Smicer and Milan Baros.

The Spaniard took the opportunity to mention Istanbul and the memorable Champions League final in 2005, when Liverpool came back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties.

The Europa League is a far cry from the Miracle of Istanbul, or Munich for Chelsea last year, but for Petr Cech tomorrow's match has personal significance.

The 30-year-old goalkeeper arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2004 for £7million from Rennes, having moved to France from Sparta Prague, tomorrow's opponents, where he spent a season in 2001-02, playing in the Champions League.

Cech, who suffered a hairline fracture to his little finger at Newcastle, hopes Chelsea can win the Europa League and become the fourth club to win all three of UEFA's major competitions, after Ajax, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

"Once you are out of the competition you can't change the situation," Cech said.

"Yes, we will all be missing the Champions League campaign, but it's the way it is and we can make ourselves happy by going far in the Europa League.

"If we can win the Europa League it would be fantastic.

"It's a great motivation for everyone. When you're in a top club you always want to try to win every competition.

"If you win the Europa League you can play in the Super Cup. We missed out on the Super Cup this season (losing to Atletico Madrid in August) and it was a big disappointment for us."

Press Association

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