Benitez told to prioritise top four finish over cups

Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 00:00

Reading v Chelsea,Madejski Stadium, 8pm

Rafael Benitez has been told to prioritise a top-four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League over the remainder of his interim stewardship of Chelsea as Roman Abramovich looks to salvage a position in Europe’s elite competition from a traumatic campaign.

The stand-in manager, whose contract at Stamford Bridge expires at the end of the season, met the technical director, Michael Emenalo, at the club’s Cobham training base yesterday morning in the wake of defeat by Swansea in the League Cup semi-final and Sunday’s unconvincing draw at Brentford in the FA Cup.

Emenalo – acting as a go-between for Abramovich – told im Benitez all efforts must focus on a top-four finish rather than retaining the FA Cup or winning the Europa League.

There is a recognition not only of the financial necessity to qualify for the Champions League but also that their participation would have a major bearing on the recruitment of a new manager and squad strengthening. Chelsea are third, seven points ahead of fifth-placed Everton.

Benitez’s position is not under immediate threat and the board, at present, expect him to see out the season as planned.

However, with supporter opposition to the Spaniard continuing unabated, he is unlikely to earn a longer stay at the club and Chelsea have begun to consider their options for a long-term replacement.

Candidates on that list will include Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Michael Laudrup and David Moyes, and the club are hopeful that Benitez will bequeath his successor Champions League football.

“All I can say is what I know: I have had meetings,” said the interim first-team manager. “We were talking about the situation and it’s clear for me the priority is the top four and progressing as much as we can in the other competitions.”

Benitez believes he retains the players’ support and spoke yesterday with Terry, Frank Lampard and David Luiz – the Brazilian will be absent for the game at Reading this evening along with Petr Cech with ankle and calf complaints respectively – as the squad seek to inject momentum back into their campaign. “The players are quite happy with the ways we are doing things, so that is the most positive thing,” said Benitez.

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