Other Sports

Benitez hopeful of final Chelsea flourish

Rafael Benitez challenged his Chelsea players to end the season on a high after securing a place in the Europa League final with victory over Basel.

Although they are third in the Premier League and in a good position to book a spot in next season’s Champions League, the European trophy is the Blues’ only chance of silverware this campaign.

“It is important to show this character and keep the momentum,” Benitez said.

“We have difficult games left but hopefully we can do it.”

Chelsea return to Premier League action on Sunday with a trip to champions Manchester United before they host Tottenham, who are three points behind in the race for a top-four place, on Wednesday.

“Now they realise how important every single game is,” added interim manager Benitez. “The reaction in the second half [when Chelsea fought back from a goal down] showed their character and now I think they will be like that until the end.

“To get three points in every game will be massive because we are so close. We have to do our job and hopefully other teams will make mistakes.”

Benitez, who has led Valencia and Liverpool to European titles, said the Europa League finalists now had the perfect opportunity to wipe away the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals of both the League Cup and FA Cup.

“I have been in a lot of finals, and a lot of games in this kind of situation, but another one with another club means you have good staff and good players,” he continued, looking ahead to their final clash against Benfica on 15 May in Amsterdam.

“It’ll be tough because Benfica are a very, very dangerous team and hard to play against, but at least we are there. With the commitment and the quality, we’ll have a chance for sure.”

Chelsea reached a European final for the second successive year thanks to second-half goals from Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and David Luiz after Basel had made it 2-2 on aggregate when they scored just before the interval.

“We had two clear chances in the first half but did not take them, we conceded the late goal at the end of the first half and the players had to react,” said Benitez, who confirmed in March he would be leaving Stamford Bridge in the summer.

“Credit to them [the Chelsea players] because they did. We scored three and controlled the game.

“I am very pleased to be in the final. We have been working so hard to reach another one.

“I came to do a professional job with the commitment of the players. I am pleased for them and everyone here.

“We have had a very good atmosphere inside, the players have always worked hard, they have always done their job. I was pleased with them before this game and I am pleased with them now.”

When asked whether reaching the Europa League final made him feel like staying on as manager, Benitez said: “I feel fine, I feel happy, I’m enjoying the moment.”

Basel coach Murat Yakin said his players were “caught out ice cold” by Chelsea’s second-half sucker-punch.

“We played well in the first half and I think we caused Chelsea many problems,” said the former Switzerland international.

“In the second half it went too fast and we were caught out ice cold, but I have to compliment my players for their performance.”