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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions