No miracle needed for Chelsea, says Benitez
LONDON (AFP) –
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez says his side will not need a “miracle” in order to avoid becoming the first Champions League holders to be eliminated in the group phase.
The defending champions host Danish competition debutants FC Nordsjaelland on Wednesday knowing that even victory in their final group game may not be enough to take them into the last 16.
Chelsea can only go through if they win and Juventus lose at Shakhtar Donetsk in the other Group E game, but Shakhtar are already through and Juve require only a draw to join them.
Benitez oversaw Liverpool‘s famous comeback from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties in the 2005 final in Istanbul, but he does not believe Chelsea’s current situation requires a similarly dramatic rescue act.
“I don’t think it’s a miracle,” said the Spaniard, who was appointed on a temporary basis following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.
“We have to do our job and wait for the other teams.”
Since replacing Di Matteo in the wake of the 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin, Benitez has seen Chelsea draw twice and lose once in his first three games, extending their winless run in the Premier League to seven matches.
It is the club’s worst sequence of results since 1995 but Benitez says he feels “no pressure” from notoriously trigger-happy owner Roman Abramovich.
Saturday’s 3-1 loss at West Ham United prompted press reports that former manager Avram Grant was due to return to the club in an advisory capacity.
However, Chelsea subsequently denied the reports and Benitez said he had been given assurances that the Israeli would not be coming back to Stamford Bridge.
“I know Avram Grant is a nice person and a good manager, but all the information I have is he’s not coming,” said Benitez, who was speaking at Tuesday’s pre-game media conference.
With Daniel Sturridge injured — along with John Terry and Frank Lampard — Benitez will once again be reliant on Fernando Torres to lead the line.
Torres teed up Juan Mata for Chelsea’s opener at West Ham but has scored just once in his last 12 games — and that a lucky ricochet in the 3-2 win at home to Shakhtar last month.
The Spaniard was signed to score goals but although he has mustered just 19 since his £50 million ($80.5 million, 61.6 million euros) switch from Liverpool last year, Benitez says he is helping out in other areas of the pitch.
“Two or three times he’s cleared the ball (at corners),” he said.
“As a striker, he’s helping the team. I wouldn’t mind him not scoring but the team winning.”
Meanwhile, Mata has insisted the players are fully behind Benitez, despite widespread discontent from Chelsea fans over his appointment.
“We are trusting him because Rafa wants the best for the team,” said the former Valencia midfielder.
“If we want to win the Club World Cup, or the Premier League or the other competitions, we have to do better. Rafa is a very experienced manager and he’s trying to help us. We’re trying to help him.”
He added: “The players have to be professional and work, no matter who the manager is of the team.
“We have an owner. We have people who are working, trying to do their best for this club and, as a player, I just have to work with the manager we have now. Now it’s Rafa.”
Mata also said that he and his team-mates had not been distracted by the abuse directed at Benitez from the terraces.
“I’m not deaf, so we were aware,” he said.
“The supporters are free to do whatever they want. My job, our job, is to play well and to win. That’s all I care about.”