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Benitez may miss lap of honour

Rafael Benitez today declined to reveal if he will take part in his Chelsea squad's lap of appreciation on Sunday.

Last Updated: 17/05/13 at 15:34 Post Comment   

Rafael Benitez today declined to reveal if he will take part in his Chelsea squad's lap of appreciation following Sunday's final match of the season at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez, who refused to entertain the possibility of a play-off with Arsenal for third place in the Barclays Premier League, has fulfilled his brief in his seven months in charge, by achieving qualification for the Champions League and winning silverware, Wednesday's Europa League triumph over Benfica in Amsterdam.

Yet, due to his prior association with Liverpool and the vitriol directed towards him earlier this season, Benitez was reluctant to comment on whether he will join his squad in accepting the acclaim of supporters following this weekend's Barclays Premier League match with Everton.

"I will try to concentrate on the game, enjoy, hopefully, the game and see what happens after," said Benitez, who said he had received messages of congratulations from fans through his website.

"What I can guarantee is that I will try to win the game. That is the main thing."

Benitez's November appointment as successor to Champions League-winning boss Roberto Di Matteo was met with a hostile reception from many Chelsea supporters.

Ovations for Di Matteo and Jose Mourinho - anticipated to be named Benitez's successor this summer for a second spell at Stamford Bridge - continued throughout the campaign, until his February comments at Middlesbrough when he urged supporters to back the team, rather than barrack him.

The Europa League winners play their 69th game of a gruelling and tumultuous campaign on Sunday, but there is a slim possibility there will be a further match this term.

If Chelsea and Arsenal finish the season level on points, goal difference and goals scored, a play-off will be necessary to decide third place and the automatic Champions League qualification spot, even though the Blues beat the Gunners twice this term.

It would create a further scheduling problem in a congested season for the Blues, who next week have an end-of-season tour to the United States scheduled ahead of the international window.

On the prospect of a play-off, Benitez said: "It's too early to talk about that.

"We consider that we will not go to the play-off, so we prefer not to discuss that.

"If we have to do it, the rules are the rules. I don't think it's ideal, but in trying to avoid this situation, we will score goals and we will try to win."

Benitez believes his side deserve third place.

He added: "It's always important to finish well. We have been working so hard during the season that it would be a pity if we cannot guarantee top three."

Benitez believes Chelsea, who will be without captain John Terry (ankle), forward Eden Hazard (hamstring) and left-back Ryan Bertrand (knee) on Sunday, are capable of mounting a title challenge next term, with the addition of signings.

"It's a really good group of players and I think the club will add some new players," Benitez said.

"I said the other day it could be £100million, but I don't know. It could be £50m, it could be £20m, it could be £200m. I don't know but I'm sure they will try to improve, like every club.

"And I think the team will be much better because they will have more experience and new players coming in and pushing."

Benitez agreed with midfielder Frank Lampard, who this week agreed a one-year contract extension, that Chelsea require some stability as they look for a 10th permanent manager in 10 years of Roman Abramovich's ownership.


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Benitez said: "Every club, all around the world, needs stability. I think it's good."

The 53-year-old Spaniard faces an unsettling period himself once he leaves Chelsea following the USA friendlies with Manchester City.

With David Moyes joining Manchester United as successor to Sir Alex Ferguson, Everton are seeking a new boss, but Benitez cannot envisage a future at Goodison Park, even though his family home remains on The Wirral.

Asked specifically about Everton, Benitez, whose preference is to stay in England, said: "I don't think so. I have a lot of respect for Everton and I think that they're doing really well.

"It's not easy. There are not too many options."

Moyes will bid farewell to the Toffees following the match and switch to Old Trafford.

"I think he's done a good job," Benitez said. "He has been for years keeping the team at the top, in the top eight, top six, top five.

"We were rivals for a while, we will be rivals on Sunday. After this game I wish him all the best.

"After Ferguson and United everyone will have trouble to do the same as he did. It's impossible.

"The support of Ferguson I think will be key for him."


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