Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 2 match report: Smiling Rafael Benitez begins making play for another job in the Premier League

Spaniard’s hopes of Europa League glory on Wednesday hit by Terry and Hazard injuries

The image of the beleaguered Rafael Benitez, booed and vilified by Chelsea’s supporters, is a world apart from the smiling Spaniard who was quipping his way through his post-match press conference at Villa Park on Saturday.

With his Chelsea side having just earned the 2-1 comeback victory that effectively makes it mission accomplished for the interim manager – another Champions League campaign virtually assured – Benitez had a look of understandable satisfaction on his face as he reflected with “pride” on the job done since replacing Roberto Di Matteo in November.

If he can add a victory in Wednesday’s Europa League final against Benfica, he will not only ensure Chelsea’s season of transition ends with a silver lining – but also boost his own future job prospects.

He certainly believes he has done a good job. “With these new players in a lot of competitions I think it’s a good achievement,” he said. “We played the final in the Club World Cup and now we are in another final and qualified for the Champions League. 

“If you analyse carefully our squad – 20 players plus three keepers, some older players and some young players – to achieve what we have achieved is really good.

“I think it’s a big improvement,” he added, suggesting that he will leave the club in better health than when he joined. “I think so. They have more balance, more experience, [better] understanding. I think this team [with] two or three players can be contenders.”

In his own mind, it is an even bigger achievement given the unwelcoming environment he has found on matchdays at Stamford Bridge. “I remember in England some managers with hostility in the stands couldn’t cope,” he said. The results show that Benitez has not just coped but flourished, and he is hopeful his efforts have not gone unnoticed elsewhere, with his agent already “talking around”.

Newspaper reports at the weekend suggested interest from Manchester City, and that Benitez wishes to remain in England, be it to take on “a project” of “two, three years to build a team like we did in Liverpool” or “a top side with money”.

First, of course, comes Wednesday’s Amsterdam encounter with Benfica, a challenge Chelsea can focus on without any lingering worries over their league placing thanks to the two second-half goals from Frank Lampard that broke Bobby Tambling’s record goals’ tally for the club. While a special day for Lampard, who was even applauded off by the home supporters, it was anything but for John Terry who injured his left ankle and will  miss the final on Wednesday as a consequence.

Eden Hazard’s pulled hamstring might prove a bigger setback to the final plans of Benitez, who said David Luiz had started on the bench owing to tonsillitis. Yet the manager is confident his squad can cope with what will be their 68th game of the season. “I don’t think fatigue will be a problem. To lose players like Terry, Hazard could be [difficult] but hopefully not because we have quality in the squad.” Benfica, whom Chelsea overcame in last season’s Champions league quarter-finals, were unbeaten in the Portuguese league until Saturday’s last-minute defeat by Porto, a result that cost them top spot to their opponents. “I know Benfica, I know the manager, I know the players, it’s a very good team,” said Benitez. “I was talking with [Benfica old boys] David Luiz and Ramires, about what they normally do. They are a very good team. It will be a tough, tough game.”

If they do, Benitez, a Uefa Cup winner with Valencia in 2004, would become only the second coach after Giovanni Trapattoni to win the competition with two different teams.  Something else to put on his CV.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Sport
Sean Abbott
cricketSean Abbott is named Australia's young cricketer of the year
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea