Benitez encouraged by recent away form as Chelsea look to Wembley


Swansea City (2) v Chelsea (0):Rafael Benitez met the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, in the wake of Sunday’s victory over Arsenal to deliver his assessment of the side’s progress under his interim stewardship, with the Spaniard emerging from those discussions encouraged and intent now on forcing his side’s passage to Wembley.

The London side must overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg in Swansea tonight to reach the English League Cup final, but the manager is drawing encouragement from a recent run of six consecutive domestic away wins, together with the home win over Arsenal.

Abramovich returned to England earlier than anticipated from a winter break in St Barts with Chelsea having stuttered, albeit largely at Stamford Bridge, in his absence. As a result he had sought to determine the lie of the land as he begins the latest process of recruiting a new permanent manager.

Benitez pointed to the statistical upturn in the team’s recent form and argued his side have been unfortunate in recent home matches, not least in losing 2-0 in the first leg to Swansea despite dominating the game and creating numerous opportunities. “Without giving too many details, he was really pleased with the game [against Arsenal],” said the Spaniard. “He has ideas. I do too. We share ideas. It’s fine. We explained to each other what we’re trying to do. We had people who talked with him [while Abramovich was on holiday in the Caribbean] and I have the information. But the other day I had time with him and I was really pleased.

Scoring more goals

“The stats say we’re scoring more goals, conceding fewer, and in the games we’ve lost the team have still done well. The side were in a transitional period when we came in, with some new players needing to settle down and others coming to the end of their contracts, but it’s a team that’s improving. Growing. As a manager, you have to be satisfied with this.

“We have to do better to win trophies, but the priority for the club is to be in the top four in May and try and win trophies at the same time. Could we do it a bit better? Yes. Could we have won the games we lost? Yes, we had the chances. But the team is growing, progressing, and if you talk with the players they say we’re going in the right direction.”

Abramovich returned to find the club’s support still in open revolt at Benitez’ appointment and the decision not to grant Frank Lampard a new contract, with the chairman Bruce Buck having been booed ahead of the first leg of the semi-final a fortnight ago.

John Terry is in contention for a first start since November.

Terry has made just one brief substitute appearance since suffering a knee injury against Liverpool, 10 days ago against Stoke, and was an unused replacement for the draw with Southampton and Sunday’s defeat of Arsenal.

Centre-half Chico Flores is fit and available for Swansea.

The Spaniard missed the win over Stoke City with a knee injury, but has returned in time for the Liberty Stadium encounter as Swansea target a place at a first major cup final.

Gerhard Tremmel will return in goal having started in all previous rounds of the competition. Midfielder Kemy Agustien is out with an ankle problem.

Cole signs new deal

Meanwhile, England left-back Ashley Cole has signed a one-year contract extension at Chelsea.

Cole’s previous deal was set to expire at the end of the season and at one stage he was expected to leave Stamford Bridge.

However the 32-year-old, linked with Real Madrid and Paris St Germain recently, has agreed fresh terms at the club he joined from Arsenal in 2006.

Guardian Service

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