Pablo Hernandez, Swansea City's record signing, has hailed Rafa Benitez as "the king" – but the Spain international wants to dethrone the Chelsea manager by putting one foot into the Capital One Cup final when Michael Laudrup's side visit Stamford Bridge for tonight's semi-final first leg.
Hernandez, 27, played in Valencia's youth team in 2003 when Benitez was manager at the club where he claimed two La Liga titles and the Uefa Cup. But that will count for little as the £5.55m wide man bids to put the Welsh club into a major cup final for the first time in their 100-year history.
"Rafa is a king in Valencia and the people love him there because he won three important titles," Hernandez said. "It's been difficult for Rafa at Chelsea because on the first day people wanted him out. The fans are passionate, but he needs more games. In the past, Rafa has been a good coach in La Liga and the Premier League. But people at Chelsea are not used to Rafa.
"It will be two difficult matches against them. They are a good team and the last winners of the Champions League. But it's an important game for the club and I think we can win. We've won at Arsenal and beaten Manchester City and Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium so we know we can play well. If we score in the first match then it is possible to win in the second one. To play at Wembley in a final would be great."
Hernandez, who scored in the 1-1 Premier League draw between the sides in November, also faces a reunion with former Valencia team-mate Juan Mata, and has pinpointed Chelsea's playmaker as the man Swansea's defence must shut out.
"Mata is a big friend of mine. He was my room-mate at Valencia for two years," Hernandez said. "He's an important player for Chelsea and won't be easy to stop, but I have confidence in the Swansea defence. Chelsea have a lot of big players and we also have to be wary of [Fernando] Torres and new signing [Demba] Ba. But Mata is a player we need to stop."
If Swansea can frustrate the hosts in the first 90 minutes of the tie, then the pressure will intensify on Benitez. And Laudrup, indulging maybe in a mind game of his own, has claimed the only way Benitez can overcome those at Stamford Bridge that are still unhappy with his appointment is by winning trophies.
"Rafa will tell his players what happens in the stands happens and they must concentrate on playing," Laudrup said. "But there is nothing like wins. You know how football is and results and more results will mean the past is the past and suddenly more and more [people] will respect [him] and less will be shouting bad things about the manager.
"Chelsea are the big favourites, then Swansea and Aston Villa and Bradford. It is normal and they have to accept that. Three of their players [Torres, Hazard and Mata] cost more than the other three teams put together."
Odds Chelsea 4-9 Draw 7-2 Swansea City 7-1
Kick-off 7.45pm (Sky Sports 1). H/L BBC 1, 11.05pm.
Referee A Taylor (Greater Manchester).
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