Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Benitez: Race to go down to wire

Rafael Benitez is expecting a tense finish to the season
Rafael Benitez is expecting a tense finish to the season

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez maintains the race for a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League will run until the end of the season despite seeing his much-changed side slip to a 2-1 defeat at Southampton.

The Blues have now lost three successive away games in the league and dropped below Tottenham into fourth place, with fellow London rivals Arsenal just two points adrift in fifth.

Despite the result Benitez reckons no-one will be certain of a Champions League position until the very end of the campaign, and said: "It is the same situation, if we had three points more it would be easier. We still have one game in hand and we have to carry on and concentrate and move on and start thinking about Monday (FA Cup quarter-final replay v Manchester United)."

He went on: "In the league you still have a lot of games and I think it [the battle for a top-four finish] will run for the rest of the season."

First-half goals from Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert handed Mauricio Pochettino another prized scalp, with Chelsea briefly drawing level courtesy of a John Terry header.

Pochettino, who has now won three, drawn three and lost three games since replacing Nigel Adkins as Saints manager in January was quick to defend his Chelsea counterpart following the game.

"I have a lot of sympathy [for Benitez's position]," he said. "I fully recognise the job that he has done. For me he is one of the best managers in the world and he has my full respect for what he has achieved in football."

The win against Chelsea follows earlier home successes against Manchester City and Liverpool and Pochettino believes beating some of the league's biggest names can only boost the morale around the club.

"Victories like those of today prove that we are on the right path," he said.

"It is very important for the confidence of my players and especially the people surrounding our club - the technical staff. It is important that we believe we can achieve results as we saw today and we can continue achieving them in the future."

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