I've turned Chelsea into title contenders, says Rafael Benitez


Rafael Benitez believes that his tenure as Chelsea interim manager has set them up for a stronger title challenge next season. Benitez will take charge of his last competitive game after six turbulent but successful months, with third place in the Premier League in their sights and the Europa League trophy secured on Wednesday.

Benitez will almost certainly be succeeded by Jose Mourinho this summer and the Spaniard is confident that he has left his old rival with a much stronger squad than the one he inherited from Roberto Di Matteo.

“For sure it’s a stronger team,” Benitez said. “The players have been improving and have more experience. This is a team in transition with new players – Oscar, Mata, Hazard, Marin, Moses – who are improving and learning and now have experience of competing for trophies, which is important in a top side. Azpilicueta is now an international, David Luiz plays a different position. So I think the team will be much better. The new manager will have an easier task because he will have more quality and more experience.”

Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo’s predecessor at Stamford Bridge, predicted that Chelsea would be the team to beat next season. When asked if Chelsea could challenge for the league for the first time since 2010, Benitez was confident.

“It depends on the other teams at the same time,” he  said. “These players are getting older which may not help all of them. Some of the young players, we said before, they have the talent and they will have more experience. They have time and will be even better. Oscar, Hazard and Mata – you talk about the three amigos – are getting better every day. With some additions I’m sure the team will be even better.”

Chelsea were in a downward spiral when Benitez took over, having won once in eight games but he has changed the fitness and conditioning work to make them fitter. Fernando Torres, working with Paco de Miguel, his old fitness coach from Liverpool, has been the most obvious beneficiary while Luiz has gone from a raw talent to one of the most complete players in the Premier League.

“We have seen a very clear improvement,” said Benitez. “Fernando, particularly in the last games, is stronger and more confident and is doing well. David Luiz is consistent in different positions, done a lot of good things. The key thing is that I could trust him, to do this or that, he has always been keen to do it. ”

Benitez’s final league game is against Everton at home, and a victory would ensure third place and qualification for the Champions League group stage next year. Despite his unpopularity with some fans, Benitez could look back on his time at Chelsea with some pride.

“There are a lot of good memories,” he said. “To win the final of the Europa League was the best, in some games we played attractive football, we scored 145 goals which is the record in the history of the club. It was a good decision to come here.”

Asked whether he would give his successor any advice, Benitez  demurred: “Maybe the next manager will have some experience here, too.”

* Race for the Champions League

Arsenal will guarantee fourth place if they beat Newcastle at St James’. If they lose or draw, Spurs must beat Sunderland at home to secure fourth. If Chelsea draw 0-0 and Arsenal win 2-1, they will be level overall and would meet in a play-off to decide third.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot