Wednesday 21 February 2018

We can still win the league, says a defiant Benitez as Chelsea struggle at home against Fulham

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez. Photo: PA
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez. Photo: PA
A Chelsea fan in the stands shows sign saying 'RAFA OUT'

Ben Rumsby

Despite going 270 minutes without scoring a single goal and slipping seven points off the top spot, Chelsea are still capable of winning this season's Barclays Premier League, a defiant Rafael Benitez has claimed.

Benitez's first two matches in charge of the European champions have now ended without a goal as they made it six league games without a victory against Fulham last night.

A team that looked champions elect under Roberto Di Matteo little over a month ago now appear incapable of scoring, never mind winning, and their title challenge is floundering by the game.

But Benitez insisted Chelsea had the quality to overhaul Manchester United and Manchester City, who both won last night and pushed themselves further ahead of Chelsea..

"Why can't we?" Benitez said defiantly.

He added: "It's still a long way to go. We have to keep going. We'll have chances.

"Remember, last season when City were ahead and it was 'easy'.

"Then they needed to win their last game. It's a long, long competition."

Interim manager Benitez acknowledged Chelsea were lacking confidence after a run of two wins in 10 that threatens to wreck their season.

He added: "The main thing is to win games. If we do, we'll be there and we can win competitions.

"We need to start doing that and the confidence will come back."

No-one exemplifies Chelsea's plight more than Fernando Torres who, barring a fluke goal, has not found the net for almost two months.

"It wasn't easy for him, or [Eden] Hazard or Oscar," said Benitez.

"We were on top of them [Fulham], regaining the game higher up the pitch, and might have won it in the last minute."

For all their pressure, Chelsea barely tested the opposition goalkeeper as they record two straight goalless draws for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the club.

"You cannot be satisfied when you haven't won these games," said Benitez, whose two games in charge have been watched by the Russian.

"City are a top side, a team with a lot of options.

"I saw a lot of positive things, sustaining the attacks and regaining the ball very high.

"I didn't like the two chances we gave away on the counter-attack, and when we didn't move the ball too quickly, but it's a question of time.

"We've only had a few training sessions. We need more time."

Chelsea were sorely missing some creativity after resting Juan Mata, who eventually joined the fray.

Benitez said: "We have too many games now, so we have to manage the squad.

"We cannot play the same team every time. We have West Ham, Japan, too many games."

He denied that results proved he was too focused on improving a defence that had not kept a clean sheet for 10 games or that the change of manager had unsettled the squad.

"If you talk with them, and we do all the time, they're quite happy with the things we're trying to achieve," he said.

The fans, however, are not.

Despite not booing Benitez before kick-off, they were back to jeering and heckling him by the final whistle.

It did represent an improvement from Sunday and he said: "The fans realise to support the team and support the manager is the best way to move forward and win games."

Benitez admitted Torres was lacking "confidence", something that could not be said for opposite number Dimitar Berbatov.

Fulham boss Martin Jol said: "Berbatov was almost unplayable and linked our play, and we had a few chances.

"After the game, everyone said Berbatov was fantastic, and he was, but the other players worked every so hard."

Hard enough to carve out the game's clearest opportunities.

"At 80 minutes we had two possibilities," Jol said.

"I'm not disappointed to only get a draw away from home, but disappointed we didn't make more of those chances."

Jol played down the affect the subdued atmosphere may have had tonight.

"That could be a normal thing," he said.

"We played them here twice last year and had two draws, and a draw at home as well.

"We could have nicked it and that would have been bad for them and great for us."

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