English Premiership

Chelsea have title shot - Rafa

2013-05-20 11:12
Rafael Benitez (AFP)

London - Rafael Benitez insists he has left behind a Chelsea side capable of challenging for the English Premier League title next season after ending his six-month reign with the 2-1 victory over Everton that secured a third-placed finish.

Benitez had also masterminded last week's Europa League final triumph over Benfica, but the interim manager's absence from the post-match celebrations following the final-day win at Stamford Bridge highlighted his troubled relationship with the club's supporters.

The Spaniard, though, is adamant he has succeeded in winning over many doubters among the Chelsea fans and in the dressing room during his spell at the club.

And he maintains he leaves Chelsea in a better state for his successor, likely to be Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, than when he took over from Roberto Di Matteo in November.

"It has been a great experience," said Benitez. "You take a team that was in transition, with young players, and now we have left a good team with more experience, more character, scoring goals, more balance.

"I think it will be good for the next manager, who will have a very good team, and the owner will bring in more players. This team will challenge for the title next year.

"I received a lot of messages on the website, saying thank you very much, people appreciating what we were trying to do, but it (the lap of appreciations) was for the family and players.

"I think the supporters have changed. After the Middlesbrough press conference (when Benitez criticised the travelling Chelsea supporters who targeted him with abusive chants), you could see a lot more support for the team.

"The relationship with the staff and players has been quite good. It's something you can feel almost every week, a little bit more and more. I can't say 'when' (I felt like I belonged), but when we started changing things at half-time and winning games, it gave us a more sense of union.

"I think the majority of them were very positive in the end, which is good. And I think I changed the opinion of some of them. We tried to do our best to the end."

Chelsea's Brazilian defender David Luiz offered support for the outgoing manager.

"We want to say 'thank you' because he was an amazing coach for the team and for me personally," Luiz said.

"I learnt a lot from him and he's a professional guy. People said bad things about him but not many coaches can do what he does."

There was less at stake for Moyes and Everton but they competed impressively in a game that was eventually decided by Fernando Torres' 76th minute goal after Steven Naismith had cancelled out Juan Mata's early opener.

Moyes is ending an 11-year spell at Goodison Park as he prepares to succeed Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager, but he plans to continue working for the Toffees for the next few days.

"I'll go into the training ground some of the days next week to make sure everything is in place for the incoming manager, whoever it is," he said.

"I'm due to go on holiday in a week's time. So I'll be doing two jobs for the next week or so.

"I'd like to think what we've done has been a success. It was a big shock when we were knocked out of the Cup against Wigan. We're up there competing to be in the Europa League.

"There are regrets and things could have been better, but there were more plusses.

"We went to Arsenal a few weeks ago and drew, we've beaten Spurs recently. We've had big games, and we don't spend as much on transfers and wages than the others. It's a big achievement for Everton, even if we haven't had a trophy."


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