Rafa backs misfiring Torres

Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez defended Fernando Torres after the striker continued to fire blanks in their Europa League progression to the last 16.

Last Updated: 22/02/13 at 10:47 Post Comment

Rafa Benitez: Relieved to progress and delighted with matchwinner Eden Hazard

Rafa Benitez: Relieved to progress and delighted with matchwinner Eden Hazard

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Substitute Eden Hazard saved the Blues from extra-time with a last-gasp strike to snatch a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge that was enough to overcome Sparta Prague's persistence over the two legs.

The Spaniard has been under-fire for most of the season and continued to struggle in front of goal, wasting four clear-cut chances on a night Chelsea dominated possession without displaying a convincing cutting edge.

Most glaringly Torres was off-target twice in the opening 15 minutes, when a more confident striker may have helped ensure the ensuing night of nerves were averted.

"He didn't play badly tonight," Benitez said about his forward who has scored once in his past 14 games - against League One Brentford.

"You can analyse a striker for the number of goals he scores. Maybe you're right. But he did a great job for the team tonight. It's not easy against a team playing deep, but he was winning the ball in the air, bringing options for those around him.

"I thought he was playing well. I disagree he was playing badly. But of course we want him to take the chances that come his way.

"If he continues working like today and playing like he did today, he will score goals. I'm convinced about that. We could be talking about Fernando not scoring goals, and he had four chances. But he had four chances.

"Let's turn it into a positive. I've seen him in games not having these chances because he's not in the right position. Today the goalkeeper stopped him and he missed some. It wasn't the situation where the striker disappeared.

"Are we disappointed he didn't score? Yes, we are. But he was still giving his all to the team."

In the end it was Hazard's craft that broke down the hard-working Czechs with the final kick and book a last-16 tie with Steaua Bucharest.

The Belgian, who replaced Oscar after 67 minutes, dropped his shoulder to beat a defender before blasting a drive that the impressive Tomas Vaclik was unable to keep out.

"Hazard has quality and ability and we knew he could make the difference in the end," added Benitez. "It was not easy to pick anyone to come off. We decided Oscar because Victor Moses could give us width on the right and Hazard on the left.

"They were playing deep, so we wanted to stretch them. But we did well. We had 22 attempts and clear chances. We didn't score until the end, but we had 60% of the possession and did well.

"We made two or three mistakes and gave them opportunities to counter, but we still did enough to deserve to go through."

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e have the personnel. The trick is keeping them fit. Carrick and Blind have missed large chunks of the season, while the defence has been one muddled mess of intermittent stooges, all coming and going at various intervals thus far. We may be just short of title winning quality, but we're half way through. An injury crisis to either of the top two could change things. Optimistic, yes, but not unrealistic.

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One Point And One Conclusion For United

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arish is the man to blame for this shambles. Pulis must be chuckling into his left over turkey sandwich. I pray this doesn't mean the Neil Warnock media machine will kick in now and he'll be back on the telly box.

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Warnock sacked by Palace

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e almost found a new way to lose, just when I thought it was getting boring Giroud does that. Although Arsenal are deservedly called 'soft' the entire midfield is out injured. Still must admit MU are managing to win despite a similar raft of absentees. Think the Gunners have good players but poorly coached.

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