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Cup of little cheer for Benitez

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Chelsea interim boss Rafa Benitez

IT'S LONELY at the top, and doesn’t Rafael Benitez know it. Watching Chelsea secure their Europa League final place with a 3-1 (5-2 aggregate) destruction of FC Basel, the Blues’ coach would be excused for wondering where his next managerial opening may lie.

He’s far too professional to ever publicly admit to hearing some of the invective that has been volleyed in his direction and from some sections of the Chelsea fans during a very challenging season in west London. Benitez is also far too professional to publicly speak of the Special One, who casting amorous eyes from Rafa’s homeland, has declared his desire to return to where he is “loved.”

The majority of the 39,403 made it evidently clear, that a Jose Mourinho return would be welcomed. They chanted his name as early as the 11th minute, but studiously on the sidelines, Benitez didn’t flinch. After 33 minutes another yearning for the Special One beckoned from the Matthew Harding stand, which seemingly engulfed Stamford Bridge, followed by another ten minutes later, and yet even another deep into the second half. Benitez remained focused on the action.

In between, “Jose’s coming home!” and aimed in his direction, and then “ Sign On!” sung at the former Liverpool manager, the Blues faithful made their feelings even clearer. Even former player and manager Roberto Di Matteo got his customary mention on 16 minutes, everyone was feeling the love except the incumbent one. So, a penny for your thoughts Rafa?

By then of course, Chelsea were out of sight and already planning for the final where they’ll face Benfica in Amsterdam later this month, which could also be Rafa’s last stand. The man himself however continues in his upbeat dignified manner.

“I’m really pleased to be there, We're working really hard, I told the players they deserved to be there. It’s an opportunity for the club to be top.

"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. It's not just about me. It's about everyone helping the team. As a manager you do your job, the main thing is we’re in the final and we’ll try to win,” reflected Benitez.

Mohamed Salah had given Basel a half time lead, and the 1-0 scoreline looked to have expedited Benitez’ Chelsea departure. But playing with creativity and determination, Chelsea levelled through Fernando Torres. Victor Moses then gave Chelsea the lead, and another David Luiz stunner ensured a 3-1 scoreline on the night, and another European final for Benitez.

His opposite number Murat Yakin would not be drawn on whether Chelsea would achieve a top four Champions League spot. But contrast he is man much loved in his native Switzerland, and also in Turkey, and perhaps a national team job which if the Turkish FA offered him, he would not turn down.

The two coaches shared a second half touchline joke, as the on field play continued. Clearly there is mutual admiration there. But having offered Chelsea and Benitez his best wishes for the final Yakin declared his “Very big disappointment,” at Europa League exit.

“We caused Chelsea several problems, but in the end. We were caught ice cold. We could either score another or concede. I’d like to give my compliments to Chelsea. Their team concentrated and were clever. We’ve grown from these two games against Chelsea, they showed how clever they are.

"The little details decided this tie. The first half we were just as good, but when Chelsea made it 3-1, the result was clear. We wish Chelsea well for the final,” said Yakin.

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