Rafael Benítez met the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, in the wake of Sunday's victory over Arsenal to deliver his assessment of the side's progress under his interim stewardship, with the Spaniard emerging from those discussions encouraged and intent now on forcing his side's passage to Wembley.
The London side must overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg in Swansea on Wednesday to reach the Capital One Cup final, but the manager is drawing encouragement from a recent run of six consecutive domestic away wins, together with the home win over Arsenal.
Abramovich returned to England earlier than anticipated from a winter break in St Barts with Chelsea having stuttered, albeit largely at Stamford Bridge, in his absence. As a result he had sought to determine the lie of the land as he begins the latest process of recruiting a new permanent manager.
Benítez pointed to the statistical upturn in the team's recent form and argued his side have been unfortunate in recent home matches, not least in losing 2-0 in the first leg to Swansea despite dominating the game and creating numerous opportunities. "Without giving too many details, he was really pleased with the game [against Arsenal]," said the Spaniard. "He has ideas. I do too. We share ideas. It's fine. We explained to each other what we're trying to do. We had people who talked with him [while Abramovich was on holiday in the Caribbean] and I have the information. But the other day I had time with him and I was really pleased.
"The stats say we're scoring more goals, conceding fewer, and in the games we've lost the team have still done well. The side were in a transitional period when we came in, with some new players needing to settle down and others coming to the end of their contracts, but it's a team that's improving. Growing. As a manager, you have to be satisfied with this.
"We have to do better to win trophies, but the priority for the club is to be in the top four in May and try and win trophies at the same time. Could we do it a bit better? Yes. Could we have won the games we lost? Yes, we had the chances. But the team is growing, progressing, and if you talk with the players they say we're going in the right direction."
Abramovich returned to find the club's support still in open revolt at Benítez's appointment and the decision not to grant Frank Lampard a new contract, with the chairman Bruce Buck having been booed ahead of the first leg of the semi-final a fortnight ago.The mood has been improved somewhat by confirmation Ashley Cole, 32, has signed a new one-year contract at Stamford Bridge. "I have been able to fulfill nearly all my ambitions at Chelsea," said the England full-back. "I have won the Champions League, the league and FA Cups here, but you don't want to stop winning trophies. At a big club, you are always fighting to win a trophy."
The Capital One Cup offers Chelsea their eighth route to silverware this term but, having already been eliminated from four and effectively out of the title race, there is pressure to reach Wembley. "Swansea are the favourites at the moment, but we can do it," added Benitez. "I have spoken to the players about the first leg, analyzing the game, and we had 25 shots – a long list – and were dominant, on top of them. They had two chances because we made two mistakes, and scored them both. We know this is an opportunity. The players aren't angry, but they're professionals and winners. We have to do our best because we deserved more in the first game."
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