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We already have a great boss at the Bridge – Mata

While Jose Mourinho continued to escalate his very public flirtation with Chelsea, the only response from the Stamford Bridge dressing-room was a resounding endorsement for the work of Rafael Benitez.

Juan Mata, Chelsea's undoubted player of the season, described Benitez as "a great manager" and, having declined the opportunity to speak about Mourinho, made the questionable claim that the club are on course for a highly successful season under their interim manager.

He also argued that they were coming through this season of transition in a position to challenge again to win both the Premier League and Champions League.

Lesser targets will consume Chelsea over the next 17 days when the objective will be a top-four Premier League finish and a first triumph in the Europa League.

Chelsea carry a 2-1 advantage into the second leg of their semi-final against Basel tonight before potentially season-defining Premier League fixtures against Manchester United on Sunday and then Tottenham Hotspur next Wednesday.


"Rafa's a manager who did great seasons at every club he's been at," said Mata. "We're working really, really well under him. For me and the players, he's a great manager.

"We are trying to be in third position and having a chance to win a trophy, so maybe the season in the end will look good for us and that will be because of his job. Maybe it'll be a great season in the end.

"I can't choose between the Europa League and finishing in the top four. If we play like we've been playing, are all together, I think we can do both aims.

"I'd really like to win the Premier League next season. I think we have the players, a really good squad. It's just we have to be consistent in the season, so why not?"

Mourinho would be Mata's fourth different manager during two eventful years at Chelsea that have also resulted in an FA Cup and Champions League triumph. Mata, though, was adamant that the players could not be distracted, or affected, by the search for Roman Abramovich's 10th manager in 10 years.

"It's not our business," he said. "As a professional, you have to be able to train, to perform and win no matter who the manager is. Chelsea are a club who are always at the top level. It's true I've had three managers and I really enjoyed myself with all of them."

Mourinho's name was mentioned four times during a press conference yesterday that, ostensibly, was all about previewing tonight's match against Basel.

After Mata's non-answer, Benitez did hint that he thought Mourinho should stop talking about a potential return to England – and by inference Chelsea – at such a crucial stage of the season. "Each one has his way – my way is to concentrate on the next game," said Benitez.

Going into tonight's match, there was also a warning from both Mata and Benitez about the threat still posed by a Basel team who have eliminated Manchester United and Tottenham from European competition in the past two years.

"We still know we have to fight to be in the final," said Mata. "I think Basel can still get through. They're a team who try until the end. It's going to be a dangerous game. It's the kind of game that can be very risky for ourselves.

"If we don't go into the game thinking about winning, thinking about defending well, it'll be difficult."

Benitez agreed and stressed that his selections tonight would not be influenced by the fact that David Luiz, Ryan Bertrand, Ramires and John-Obi Mikel are all only one booking from missing the final.

"The main thing is to win and qualify for the final and we will try to do it with the best team possible," he said. "I think they will come to try and score. I am concerned, but I'm not afraid. We know they're a dangerous team.

"When I signed for Chelsea I wanted to do a professional job. I think we have done this from the first day. We have qualified for the semi-finals of every other competition, which is a fantastic achievement in a very busy season in a transitional period.

"We will try to do our best to get to another final and, if we're there, to win it. We will try to stay as high as possible in the table and to win a trophy. It will be fantastic for me and everyone involved." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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Irish Independent