Rafael Benitez believes he is seeing progress at Chelsea

Interim manager takes his side into Europa League action tonight

Interim manager Rafael Benitez may not have enjoyed the easiest ride at Chelsea so far but is pleased by the way the side are progressing under his stewardship.

The former Liverpool boss was a far from popular appointment at Stamford Bridge in November when he came in as replacement for fan favourite Roberto di Matteo.

Yet, while most of the headlines this week surround Arsenal's failings, the west Londoners could still end the season with success.

Second place in the Premier League remains within grasp and an FA Cup quarter-final awaits, while Europa League glory is still a possibility.

They face Sparta Prague tonight as they look to reach the last 16 of the Europa League, with Chelsea leading 1-0 from the first leg in what is Benitez's 25th match at the helm.

"My job is to prepare for the next game," the Spaniard said.

"We've played so many games in just three months and 25 games so think a bit about that. We haven't been able to train like we'd like to.

"We are still improving a lot of things but you also have to win games. As soon as you lose or draw, everything changes.

"But the team is working very hard, the staff are working very hard and I think we're going in the right direction."

Benitez will be hoping to continue that momentum against Sparta Prague at Stamford Bridge, where Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic are being rested and Demba Ba is cup-tied.

"At the moment this is the priority as we play Sparta Prague tomorrow," Benitez said.

"One game at a time and that is the most important game we have to play.

"I was not just analysing their players, but the performance of the team.

"I think the team had a good idea about what they wanted to do. The manager did a good job.

"The shape of the team, movement and patterns were good and we were talking about the before. We know it will not be an easy game. For sure."

More than 3,000 visiting fans are expected this evening and Sparta Prague boss Vitezslav Lavicka has pledged to give them something to cheer about.

"We expect that Chelsea will play the best they can to win," he said.

"We are coming here 1-0 down, which makes it a difficult situation for us but we still have a clear intention to play our best and try to surprise tomorrow.

"It is going to be a tough, tough game for us but we have a clear intention to do our best. We will try to qualify, which is what we want."

PA

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