Benitez backs Chelsea to break last-four hoodoo

CHELSEA boss Rafael Benitez has called on his players to end this season’s semi-final curse by holding their nerve against FC Basel tonight to reach the Europa League final.

The Blues have already reached the last four in the Carling Cup and

FA Cup this term, but were eliminated by eventual winners Swansea and Manchester City respectively, with their lone semi-final success coming in the Club World Cup against Monterrey of Mexico.

Chelsea triumphed 2-1 against Basel in Switzerland last week, but are yet to keep a clean sheet at home in Europe this season, so Benitez will approach the tie with caution to ensure they reach the final in Amsterdam later this month.

“It’s always sad when you lose, but in a semi-final you are so close,” said the former Liverpool manager.

“I am concerned, but I am not afraid. We know they are a dangerous team. They are strong and they score goals away, but at the same time we are a good team and we are so close to the final.

“We have to concentrate and not make mistakes. I have confidence in my players.”

Benitez will be without regular left-back Ashley Cole, who is banned, so Ryan Bertrand is likely to deputise despite being one of four Chelsea players who are one booking away from potentially missing the final through suspension.

David Luiz, Chelsea’s match-winner in Basel, plus midfielders Ramires and John Obi Mikel will hope to stay out of Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson’s notebook tonight.

However, Benitez insists there will be no room for sentiment when he names his starting XI.

“The main thing is to win and qualify for the final and we will try and do that with the best team possible, the yellow cards don’t matter,” he said. “My concern is that we will think we are in the final and that is not the case. We are playing against a very good team, so everybody has to realise it will be tough.

“Hopefully I will be wrong and we score a lot of goals, but first of all we have to win, then we can think about the final.”

Tonight’s tie begins a pivotal week of matches with a trip to Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday being followed by the visit of top-four chasing rivals Tottenham on Wednesday.

Benitez is set to depart his interim role in the summer, but insists the club’s pursuit of a new manager has no bearing on Chelsea’s quest to qualify for the Champions League.

“It was important before and important now,” he added. “We know its our priority and we will try to do it. I like to think positively, so we will be there.

“I decided I wanted to do a professional job and have done from the first day. We will try to stay as high as possible in the table and to win a trophy would be fantastic for me and everyone involved.

“As a manager you want to win every trophy that you can.”

CHELSEA’S SEMI-FINALS

Club World Cup
■ Won 3-1 against Monterrey with an own goal, plus strikes from Juan Mata and Fernando Torres. Lost 1-0 to Corinthians in the final

Carling Cup
■ Lost 2-0 at home to Swansea in the first leg, then drew 0-0 away, where Eden Hazard was sent off

FA Cup
■ The holders suffered a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City at Wembley