Rafa Benitez tried to put a gloss on Chelsea’s Champions League group stage elimination when he said that the team was capable of achieving “whatever we want” if they played at the level it took to beat Nordsjaelland 6-1 at Stamford Bridge.
The Danish champions were brushed aside by Chelsea who nevertheless went out the Champions League at the group stage for the first time in their ten seasons in the competition when Juventus beat Shakhtar in Donetsk to take the first place in Group E. Benitez said that Chelsea would take the Europa League seriously, although admitted that most clubs only do so when they find themselves in the latter stages of the competition.
He said: “I'm sure that, playing at this level, we can do whatever we want. But we have to show that in the next game. One game at a time. if you remember the games we've already played, we performed more or less [well] against Manchester City, we could have beaten Fulham, the first half against West Ham [was promising]. Everything I have seen from the players is positive. They are progressing. They are improving. So I have to be pleased.”
He added: “The Europa League is not important if you don't win. But if you are in the semi-final or final, everyone wants to win. It's an important competition at that stage. So, if we get there, we'll do our best to win it.”
Although Chelsea were awarded two penalties in the first half for handball, Fernando Torres, who scored twice, declined to take either of them despite the absence of regular penalty-taker Frank Lampard. The striker has historically not taken penalties since leaving Atletico Madrid but Benitez suggested that he was not in the right frame of mind to do so.
“You have to have some players [to take penalties] and in this case we had two who were fine, [Eden] Hazard and David [Luiz]. Sometimes you don't need a striker taking penalties if you have others who can do it. If you have others who, maybe, are more calm and have more composure. At Liverpool we had [Steven] Gerrard. Here Hazard and Luiz. In the future, maybe [Torres] we'll see. But the players knew before it would be Hazard and, after, David Luiz.”
There are still major doubts about John Terry’s readiness to fly to Japan next week. The Chelsea captain said in his programme notes that the record before last night’s match of no wins in six games was “simply ... not good enough”. He said: “We, as players, have to stand up and take responsibility – stand up and stay together.”
After the win Benitez said that his side could build on the result. “More than the win was the way we win: the character, attitude, intensity, chances we created. I'm really pleased for the club, the players, the fans and for me.
“The owner had confidence and hoped we could continue in the Champions League, but, again, it was out of our hands. He was expecting. We were expecting. I had confidence. But now we have to think about the future and that future is Sunderland and the great performance.”