Rafael Benitez was thrilled last night after his hopes of ending his Stamford Bridge tenure with a trophy were improved by Fernando Torres. Chelsea made the quarter-finals of the Europa League on a notably positive night at the Bridge as they saw off Steaua Bucharest.
Torres enjoyed another mixed night, scoring the winning goal with 19 minutes left but later hitting the bar with a penalty to kill the contest.
Chelsea's interim manager, though, was delighted to make progress. When Benitez took the job in November he spoke of wanting to win five trophies but the Europa League and the FA Cup are the only two competitions left that he can win here.
"It was a great victory, a great game against a good team, so everybody on our side will be pleased," said Benitez.
Chelsea's commitments in Europe, the FA Cup and the Premier League will mean a spell of six games in 16 days after the international break, including both legs of the European quarter-final, but Benitez would rather have too many games than too few.
"I prefer to have this problem because it means we are still in competitions," Benitez said. "Always a top side wants to be in all the competitions until the end, we will try to do our best and try to manage the squad, it is always positive to go through."
Benitez will surely rotate in future but last night he played arguably his strongest possible team, uniting Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires, Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in a five-man midfield for the first time since his opening game as Chelsea manager. That was the combination that won Roberto Di Matteo his victories at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the season and it provided enough quality for Chelsea to win the game.
The first goal came after 33 minutes when Mata surged through the middle, exchanging passes with Ramires on the edge of the box, turning past another challenge and scoring through goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu's legs. Hazard nearly scored a similar goal soon after taking a return pass from Mata.
But Steaua scared Chelsea, scoring an away goal just before the break, as Vlad Chiriches stabbed in from close range after a corner.
That meant Chelsea needed two goals in the second half to progress. It could have been tense but in fact it was not. John Terry was free to head in Mata's free-kick before Hazard flicked Mata's pass into Torres' path with 20 minutes left. The striker made himself space and shot into the bottom corner.
It was Torres' first goal since January but he could not build on it. After being denied a penalty himself, he took one when Hazard was fouled in the final minutes but hit the bar. Last night, though, Benitez saw the positives.
"We are very pleased because he was taking the responsibility rather than that he missed the penalty," he said. "It was good he scored, hopefully it will be the first of a lot."
Man of the match Mata.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee S Lannoy (Fr).
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