Business as usual for under-fire Benitez

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez was today preparing as usual for tomorrow’s Barclays Premier League clash with West Brom, despite suggestions his spell would come to a premature end following his diatribe against his job title and the club’s fans.

Benitez confirmed he would be leaving Chelsea in the summer as part of an impassioned monologue following the holders’ 2-0 FA Cup win at Middlesbrough on Wednesday night, which set up a quarter-final tie with Manchester United.

The criticism sparked suggestions his tenure in caretaker charge could end early, but Benitez insists his relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and the playing squad is strong.

“My relationship with the owner is really good,” Benitez told BBC’s Football Focus. Every time I talk to Abramovich about football, I enjoy (it).

“I know that he wants to win. I’m here because he wants to win and I will try to do my best until the last day.

“The relationship is fine. I don’t have any problem with anyone. I have conversations with Michael Emenalo, the technical director, every single day. He watches the training sessions, we talk about football and when I meet Roman Abramovich, we talk about football.

“We talk like normal people. We share a passion for football.”

Reports of dressing room unrest, including a dispute with captain John Terry, have been played down and Benitez is adamant there are no major concerns.

“My relationship with the staff, the people at Cobham, is really good, fantastic,” Benitez added. “The players are fully behind our ideas, 100%.”

Chelsea insisted it was “business as usual” at their Surrey training base, where Benitez took training yesterday.

The Spaniard is expected to be given at least one more match in charge and will hold the pre-match media conference as scheduled this afternoon.

Benitez repeated his wish for the fans to support his team, although given his comments the atmosphere and taunts towards the interim boss could be more toxic than usual tomorrow.

Fourth-placed Chelsea are in a battle to secure Champions League football next term.

The consequences of missing out could be serious for the club which conquered Europe last term and securing Champions League football is the over-riding priority.

Benitez, who remain in contention for the FA Cup and Europa League, added: “The way to help the team is to support the players every single game. I think it will be easier for us to achieve what we want to achieve.”

Benitez has now overseen four wins in six games – a run which was preceded by just three wins in 10 – and has a victory ratio of 52 per cent, which, alongside Andre Villas-Boas, is the poorest start of any of the nine managers in the Abramovich era.

The reaction of the former Liverpool boss in confirming his departure at the end of the season is likely to heighten speculation over his replacement, with former boss Jose Mourinho, now at Real Madrid, reported to be the top target.

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