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Benitez sympathises with Wenger view but prefers trophies to top-four

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez before the game. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez before the game. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Saturday, February 2, 2013
9:20 AM

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez does not see finishing in the top four as a trophy but can understand why Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger deems it so important.

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The top three in England automatically go through to the Champions League group stage, while the fourth placed side face a play-off to reach that point.

But the Spaniard believes that winning trophies is more important.

“I don’t think that he [Wenger] can see this as a trophy,” he said.

“He said that it’s really important for the club and especially now with the money that’s involved in the Champions League.

“You can see it as something really important. If you can progress and win trophies that is better.”

Chelsea occupy that third spot, ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham, as all three clubs drew during the week to maintain the status-quo with another game gone and Benitez knows that staying ahead of the north London rivals has to be the priority.

“For us, we have to realise that the priority is to finish in the top four. That means at the end of the season,” he said.

“You can’t watch the table every week. We have to have confidence in the team. If you win it’s easier.

“If you can’t you have to prepare for the next game. At the end of the season, where your team is.

“I think top sides are top sides. You put your own pressure on.”

Despite that Benitez has confidence that his side will be able to assure qualification for Europe’s elite competition, something he has done before with Liverpool.

He said: “I have confidence that we have enough quality when our players come back to manage the games, win more games in a row then we will finish in the top four.

“If you are the manager and you say you can’t guarantee it players will lose confidence in you. I had to say yes [that Liverpool would make it when I was in charge there].

“Some people were criticising this decision. The manager has to give confidence to his players.

“I am confident that we can do it. We have a good team and good players coming back.

“In football you can’t guarantee. I have a lot of confidence in this team.”

Given that the top three automatically qualify Benitez would like to achieve that but believes that, even if Chelsea finish first, they are almost assured Champions League football.

“We never play for being in the top four,” he said. “We play for winning every single game.

“We try and be as high as possible. Top four nearly guarantees Champions League. If we can finish in the top two or higher we will try.

“We have to concentrate on every game. At the moment we will be in the top three and then we aim to go higher.

“I say nearly guaranteed because if you are fourth you have to play a game and, normally, with the power and the quality of your players you can go through. I think it’s more difficult now but before it was nearly a guarantee.

“Today is Friday, February 1. We have plenty of time. We can talk about this in two months.”

Chelsea have looked a long way away from the Liverpool side that Benitez had challenging for the title in 2009 and the Spaniard thinks he needs time to get his point across before they can set those standards.

“I say something before that is crucial if you have precision and you have your players for a while,” he added.

“The understanding with players and managers is always easier. You can see we’re doing a lot of things in a very good way because we control the games.

“To go to these levels of understanding. You need training sessions. You play a game and during the game you try to do things that you can’t do because you weren’t practicing.

“You can’t say I will do this now because you have an idea but if they don’t understand the idea, it’s not the way. The way is practice and then you can do things on the pitch.”

Chelsea full back Cesar Azpilicueta suggested that there was a lack of confidence in the squad, something that Benitez was keen to play down.

“Against Arsenal, 10 days before, we were doing so well,” he said. “Everyone has confidence and belief. We had one or two draws.

“They’re different games, cup competitions. The team was in control until the last minute.

“I thought, watching the video, that we had a chance on 85 minutes – Oscar had a chance. We had the ball in control. The goalkeeper caught the ball.

“It was just one minute for me. They were pushing and pressing. They weren’t under real pressure until the last minute.”

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