DEPARTING Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez says the Blues will challenge for the Premier League title next season, after yesterday’s win over Everton secured a third-placed finish, yet saw them end 14 points behind winners Manchester United.
Early strikes from Juan Mata and Steven Naismith left the scores level at half-time, before Fernando Torres’ first league goal since December earned all three points for the home side. Chelsea now qualify for next season’s Champions League, having stormed to victory in the Europa League last week.
“He [the new manager] will have a fantastic team,” said Benitez, who joined as an interim manager in November. “It will be good for the next manager because he will have a very good team and also I think the owner will bring more players, so I think this team will challenge for the title next year.”
Benitez, who had been a highly unpopular appointment, admitted that it will be “a pity” to leave west London, where he believes he has won over most of Chelsea’s fans.
“The majority of [the fans] were very positive in the end, that is good – we couldn’t change the opinion of some of them, [but] we tried to do our best until the end,” he said, claiming to have received hundreds of messages of thanks from supporters.
Benitez’s side took the lead yesterday after just seven minutes when Tim Howard parried a Demba Ba shot straight at Mata, who converted.
Yet Everton were level soon afterwards as Naismith was set free by Victor Anichebe, and chipped the ball over onrushing goalkeeper Petr Cech.
In the second half Chelsea came quickest out of the traps, and the winner came 15 minutes from time. Substitute Victor Moses knocked a high ball down for Torres to drive into the near post from close range.