CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez believes he is slowly winning the respect of previously hostile Blues fans after they kept their silverware hopes alive by clinching a Europa League final date with Benfica.
Last year’s Champions League winners fell behind to Basel when Mohamed Salah levelled on aggregate in first-half stoppage time, but Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and a goal of the season contender from David Luiz restored their advantage.
Benitez accused some Chelsea fans of impeding their team by booing him during home games in an outburst following a February FA Cup win at Middlesbrough, and admitted last night that results were winning them over.
“Since we talked in Middlesbrough we have won 11 of 13 games at home, which is good. We are doing our job and hopefully a lot of them will appreciate that,” he said.
“With all the circumstances around the beginning – Demba Ba being the only signing, the squad in transition – we have done a good job. We were professional, we were trying to improve things without too much time because we had two games every week and I think we did well. Hopefully we can finish even better.”
Victory keeps Chelsea on course to become the first team ever to immediately follow Champions League success with the Europa League title and the only English club to win all three Continental trophies.
Clean sheets have eluded them in every home European match this season, however, and Basel needed just 45 minutes to prolong that unhappy sequence. Left-back Ryan Bertrand played Salah onside and he ran onto Valentin Stocker's through-ball to calmly beat Petr Cech on the stroke of half-time.
A solitary goal away from a third semi-final exit of the campaign, Chelsea responded emphatically with three strikes in nine minutes.
First, Torres was quickest to react when Sommer parried a Frank Lampard drive and slid in his 20th of the season; then the tenacious Moses finished from an almost identical position. But the third was the finest. Lampard laid off to the Brazilian
25 yards out and he steered a flawless first-time, left-footed curler into the top left corner.