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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border