Interim manager Rafael Benitez said he hoped Chelsea’s fans would show him some appreciation after he guided the club into the Europa League final for the first time in their history following their victory over Basel.
The Spaniard has struggled to win over Chelsea’s supporters ever since replacing Roberto di Matteo in November last year, but he will bow out as a winner if his side win the final in Amsterdam on May 15.
Domestically, Chelsea remain locked in a battle to secure qualification for the UEFA Champions League, the competition they won under Di Matteo, but Benitez hopes their exploits in Europe’s second-tier competition will earn his team some respect.
“With all the circumstances and everything that was around at the beginning — the situation with the new signings, the squad being in transition — it was tough, but we’ve done a good job,” Benitez said. “We’ve not had much time, having to play two games every week, but we’ve done well and hopefully we can do even better. We are professionals in our jobs. Since losing to Swansea [City in the League Cup semi-finals], we’ve won 11 of our 13 games at home, with two draws and 11 wins. We’re doing our job and hopefully a lot of them [the fans] will appreciate that.”
Chelsea hit back from a goal down in their semi-final second leg against Basel at Stamford Bridge on Thursday to win 3-1 win on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.
After Fernando Torres had canceled out Mohamed Salah’s first-half opener early in the second period, Victor Moses made it 2-1, before David Luiz sealed Chelsea’s place in the final with a magnificent curling shot from long range.
It was a goal to match the Brazilian’s superb long-range strike in Chelsea’s recent 3-0 win at Fulham and Benitez was quick to herald his display.
“I’m really pleased with him,” the Spaniard said. “Since I came, I’ve been talking to him and giving him confidence, and he’s been giving me things back. He’s been scoring with his right foot, scoring with his left foot and he’s been showing how good he is. He’s a player with real quality and hopefully he can get even better.”
Twelve months on from their triumph on penalties against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, Chelsea will start as favorites against SL Benfica at the Amsterdam Arena in two weeks’ time.
Benitez, though, says Chelsea must be wary of the Portuguese league leaders.
“It’s an opportunity for the club, but it will be tough because Benfica are a very, very tough team, but we are there and with our commitment and our quality, we’ll have a chance for sure,” he said.
Chelsea’s focus now switches back to the Premier League, with tomorrow’s trip to champions-elect Manchester United followed by a home game with Tottenham Hotspur that could prove pivotal in the contest for a top-four finish.
“It’s important to show this character and keep winning,” Benitez said. “We always say we have to keep the momentum. I hope we can do it. United will be tough, and if we beat Tottenham it will be crucial for us. They are tough games, but we have quality in the team.”
Basel coach Murat Yakin said his players had been caught “ice cold” by Chelsea’s second-half revival and he backed Benitez’s side to prevail in the final.
Asked if they would start as favorites, Yakin replied: “Absolutely. Chelsea have the team. They’re clever, experienced and they know how to win things. I hope my team has given them a really good preparation so they can go to the final and win it.”