Chelsea reach Wembley but top four still their priority




CHELSEA boss Rafael Benitez insists Champions League qualification remains his priority this season, despite guiding the Blues to an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

A sublime strike from Demba Ba was enough to seal yesterday’s quarter-final replay and move Chelsea a step closer to retaining their trophy.

But Benitez, whose team lost 2-1 to Southampton on Saturday, is adamant a last-four showdown with Manchester City is secondary to a top-four finish in the Premier League.

“The priority for us is to finish in the top four,” he said.

“The difficulty was having two games in less than 48 hours and we had to manage the squad. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t.

“The race for the top four will go until the end of the season. We are in the top four with one game in hand, so we are in a very good position.

“We are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the quarter-finals of the Europa League, so I think it is a great season at the moment.”

Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole is almost certainly out of the semi-final on 14 April, having limped off after 20 minutes clutching his hamstring.

The Blues are set to play three times before that, with a Premier League game at home to Sunderland sandwiched by their Europa League last-eight clash against Rubin Kazan.

Despite also having central defender Gary Cahill sidelined, Benitez is confident his squad possesses enough depth to cope with their ever-expanding fixture list.

“Ashley will be out for at least two weeks, which for us means 20 games,” quipped Benitez. “Our squad isn’t too big, but with no more injuries we will be fine.”

Cole’s injury was the most notable moment of a cagey and forgettable first half. But the tie burst into life four minutes into the second period when a lofted pass forwards from midfielder Juan Mata was met by Ba who, at full stretch, volleyed past goalkeeper David de Gea.

Chelsea had goalkeeper Petr Cech to thank for a remarkable save on the hour, keeping out Javier Hernandez’s diving header at point blank range.

United striker Robin van Persie was soon introduced from the substitutes’ bench, but missed a gilt-edged chance to equalise when he volleyed over from 10 yards on 88 minutes.

■ Saturday 13 April, 5:15pm
Millwall v Wigan Athletic

■ Sunday 14 April, 4pm
Chelsea v Manchester City

Both matches at Wembley Stadium