• Premier League

Benitez admits top four finish is vital

ESPN staff
January 30, 2013
Rafael Benitez admits he cannot afford to miss out on the top four © Getty Images

Rafa Benitez insists finishing in the top four of the Premier League is the priority of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich despite the club's string of recent cup eliminations.

The Blues were on the brink of bowing out of the FA Cup at Brentford on Sunday, with a Fernando Torres strike saving them to set up a replay.

And, although a defeat at home to Brentford on February 17 would represent the third competition that Chelsea have been eliminated from in the last six weeks after the Club World Cup and League Cup - not including the Champions League - Benitez claims he has the backing of Abramovich.

"All I can say is what I know: I have had meetings," Benitez said. "We were talking about the situation and it's clear for me the priority is the top four and progressing as much as we can in the other competitions.

"In the last 10 days, we had a fantastic game against Arsenal, not such a good game against Swansea, and 50-50 the other day [against Brentford]. We still have the FA Cup and the Europa League, and we can still do the top four. We talk about football, normal conversations, with [technical directtor] Michael [Emenalo].

"I have a responsibility, but that responsibility is trying to bring the best from my players. I cannot talk too much about my views on the system and structure of the club. I have to concentrate on my job.

"Again, if you go to the two-month or three year period, you have to be judged on results. At the end of the season we will see. I have confidence in the team. They're training really well, so it's a question of getting consistency in matches. If you have more bodies, it'll be easier."

Meanwhile, Benitez explained his rationale for the controversial decision not to bring on Demba Ba earlier in the 2-2 draw with Brentford, stating it was because he didn't want to take Juan Mata - "the most influential player at the moment" - away from his nest position.

"When you are attacking and doing well, to change things is not easy," he said. "[Cesar] Azpilicueta put a cross over and [Ryan] Bertrand almost scored. If the team's doing well, carry on doing well. Demba and [Fernando] Torres are strikers, not wingers. That means you have to change the shape. And the most influential member of the team at the moment is Mata, and he's not a winger.

"If you play with two strikers you have to change the shape and everything. It might be fine for one game, but it may be not. I've spoken to Mata about that. We were talking yesterday, analysing different options, and we agreed he's most effective in the middle. He is the most influential player at the moment.

"I can [move away from 4-2-3-1], but it depends on the games. You know that, maybe, it's not be best position for him to play with two strikers."

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