Benítez demands some respect

Chelsea crowd chorus Roberto Di Matteo and José Mourinho during last night’s win over Basel

Chelsea’s interim  manager Rafael Benitez talks to Basel’s coach Murat Yakin

Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez talks to Basel’s coach Murat Yakin


Rafael Benítez insisted he deserves the respect of Chelsea’s sceptical support after his team’s blistering second-half revival propelled them to the Europa League final at Basel’s expense.

Three goals in nine minutes after the interval, the third a stunning shot from distance from David Luiz, hauled Chelsea from behind to win 3-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate to secure a meeting with Benfica at the Amsterdam ArenA on May 15th. That will be the 10th major final of the Roman Abramovich era, and an opportunity to claim an 11th major trophy in the decade since the oligarch purchased the club, as Chelsea seek to become the first club to follow up a European Cup triumph by claiming the Europa League.

The home support chorused Roberto Di Matteo, who was sacked by Abramovich in November, and bellowed José Mourinho’s name as Benítez oversaw this victory as a reminder that the Spaniard will never be accepted by those in the stands. Asked if he merited the respect of the support, the interim manager said: “We’re doing our jobs as professionals. Since that ‘talk’ at Middlesbrough [when he had openly criticised the fans] I think we’ve won 11 of 13 games at home, which is quite good. We are doing our job. Hopefully a lot of the fans will appreciate that.

“It’s not just about me. It’s about the players, the staff, the fans, the club, everyone. I was helping the team. As a manager you have to do your job. With all the circumstances that were around at the beginning – the situation with the squad, being without Demba Ba, a team in transition – we’ve done a good job.

“We were professional trying to improve things without much time, because we’ve been playing twice a week, and we did well. Hopefully we can finish even better. The players deserve to be there. It’s an opportunity for the club. It’ll be tough because Benfica are a really good team and hard to play against, but at least we are there. With the commitment and the quality, we’ll have a chance for sure.”

Chelsea and Benfica will receive only 9,800 tickets each from Uefa for the final in the 53,000-capacity stadium in Amsterdam, where David Luiz and Ramires – who each avoided the caution that would have seen them banned for the showpiece – will confront their former club. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich will have 25,000 each at Wembley for this year’s Champions League final, and the London club officially had 17,500 tickets for last May’s version at the Allianz Arena. They had beaten the Portuguese side 3-1 on aggregate in the quarter-final en route to Bavaria, the clubs’ only meeting in European competition.

It remains to be seen whether John Terry, who was rested here and missed last season’s European Cup final in Munich through suspension, will be offered the chance to play this time around. Benítez, who will compete in his fourth European final, was offering no guarantees on Thursday night. “I don’t know because we have too many games to play before,” he said. “The main thing for me is to enjoy today and be ready for the challenge of Manchester United and then Tottenham Hotspur.

“It’s important to show this character from now on in and keep winning. We have to keep the momentum going. Hopefully we can do it. United will be tough, Tottenham will be crucial for us in terms of reaching the top four. We know we’ll have difficult games but we have confidence we have enough quality in the team so hopefully we can do well.”

There was an acceptance from the players that standards had slipped in the opening period here, with Basel opening the scoring to level the tie on the stroke of half-time. “In the first half we didn’t perform in the best way,” said Fernando Torres, whose equaliser sparked the revival. “At half-time we talked about that and it’s about concentration, mentality and showing that. We did it in the first 10 minutes of the second half and killed the game off. In the future we have to play with this intensity.”

The Europa League offers Benítez the chance to end his interim stewardship with a trophy and the club the possibility to hold both major Uefa trophies for 10 days – before Chelsea seek to appoint his successor. Mourinho remains the favourite for the position, with talks ongoing with his representative, Jorge Mendes, aimed at securing his return to the club he left so acrimoniously six years ago. - Guardian Service