Rafael Benítez spoke to UEFA.com about Chelsea FC's road to the UEFA Europa League final, their winning blend and the importance of finding the right balance as a coach.
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A UEFA Cup-winning coach with Valencia CF in 2004, Chelsea FC manager Rafael Benítez could become only the second man after Giovanni Trapattoni to lead two different clubs to the trophy when he sends his team out to face SL Benfica in the UEFA Europa League final in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
"I don't like to talk too much about these things beforehand," he said of that particular statistic, but he was happy to reflect on Chelsea's journey to the final and shed light on his tactical philosophy when he sat down with UEFA.com at the Londoners' training ground.
UEFA.com: Congratulations on getting through to the UEFA Europa League final. What was the key to getting past Basel?
Rafael Benítez: We knew that their games against Tottenham were very difficult for Tottenham so we approached the first game with a very good mentality, really concentrated, trying to score the away goal. Obviously we scored two goals, which was good for the second leg. At the same time we knew that at Stamford Bridge they could score, because they are an offensive team [and] we conceded a late goal in the first half. The determination, the character and the quality of the players in the second half made all the difference.
UEFA.com: Could you talk about that determination, that strong mentality in the squad, to recover from setbacks?
Benítez: Yes, it's important to react when you have something like this going wrong and we do have this character. We have some new players – this is a team in transition with young players coming in, they need to settle down in the Premier League and also in the club – but still you have some strong characters and people that have experience at international level. So we put everything together and in the end that is the difference.
UEFA.com: What kind of challenge are you expecting from Benfica in the final?
Benítez: We know Benfica really well, because
I played with Liverpool against Benfica, Chelsea played against Benfica too. So we know that this is a good team, we know the manager [Jorge Jesus]. We have some reports from Ramires and David Luiz, so we have a lot of information and we know that it will be very difficult, because they have a good team and a good manager.
UEFA.com: When Chelsea entered the UEFA Europa League, what were your expectations?
Benítez: I felt that everybody was a little bit down after being [knocked] out of the Champions League. We beat Nordsjælland 6-1 and still we were out so everybody was a little bit disappointed but as soon as we knew that we were in another competition we had to change our minds and be ready. I had the experience in this competition also, so it was easy for me to push everyone – you could see in every game that we were going forward and we were trying to win and we are in the final and we deserve to be there.
When did winning the competition become a realistic possibility?
Benítez: From the beginning we thought that we could win, but at the same time, [there are] too many games, too many good teams – it was not an easy way to the final. You have games away that are quite difficult – you go to Moscow to play against Rubin Kazan, so you need to be sure that everybody is motivated and that everybody understands how difficult it will be. The good thing is that we have players [aware] that they will have to perform at home and away, and make the difference in every game.
UEFA.com:You've won this trophy before with Valencia. How big a victory was that for you?
Benítez: There was a very good mentality, a winning team. We won the Spanish league twice after 31 years. Still nobody has won [it since] apart from Madrid and Barcelona. We saw at the time that this team had the quality, the character, a very good team spirit. And the UEFA Cup at this time was quite difficult – we played against Marseille with [Didier] Drogba. It was a very good team but we had also a very strong mentality.
UEFA.com: Finally, could you talk about how you like your teams to play football?
Benítez: I think that a passing game or direct football is one side or the other [of the equation]. I think always you have something in between. So I like to have control of the ball but at the same time if you have to play the counterattack, you have to play the counterattack. So you have to adapt yourself to your team and also to the opponents. My idea has always been trying to have control, trying to use wingers if possible and now with very clever [movement] between the lines, this is another way to play. It's about managing the squad you have, but with the aim to have balance.
Some people think that when you are defending well, you are defensive, [but] we have already scored 139 goals here and the record in the history of the club is 140.
I think we showed that we are an offensive team and we have an offensive mentality, but always we try to keep the balance and don't give other teams the chance to score goals. If you concede less, it's not that you are defensive. We are trying to find this balance, between scoring goals and not giving too many chances [away].