sport

Benitez: RA happy with progress

Rafael Benitez insists Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is happy that progress is being made following his appointment as interim boss.

Since his appointment as Roberto Di Matteo's successor following the holders' elimination from the Champions League, former Liverpool manager Benitez has had to battle derision from fans.

Abramovich is perhaps the hardest critic to satisfy, given his penchant for hiring and firing, but Benitez described talks following the 2-1 defeat of Arsenal on Sunday as positive.

During the Russian billionaire's Caribbean holiday, intermediaries communicated between Benitez and Abramovich, who returned from his break to watch the display at Stamford Bridge as the Blues moved 11 points behind Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester United.

"We have people that talk with him and I have the information," Benitez said. "The other day I had time with him and he was really pleased. He was really pleased with the game.

"He has ideas. I have ideas. We share ideas. We explained to each other what we're trying to do. It's fine."

Chelsea were in contention for seven trophies at the start of the season and now it is three, including the Capital One Cup, where Benitez's side must overturn a 2-0 deficit at Swansea in the semi-final, second leg on Wednesday.

The Spaniard believes, following a challenging start, that Chelsea are moving in the right direction, although he admits his side could perform better.

He added: "In a transitional period - we have new players and some of them are at the end of their contracts - I think it's a team that is growing and is improving.

"As a manager you have to be satisfied with this. As a manager of a top side you want to win trophies; still we have to try to do better to win trophies.

"I think the priority for the club is to be in the top four and try to win trophies at the same time. If you talk with the players they say we're going in the right direction."

With speculation linking Pep Guardiola to Chelsea at an end following his agreement to coach Bayern Munich next season, silverware would strengthen Benitez's claims for a permanent contract.

He was reluctant to comment on non-footballing matters and his future ahead of the Swansea clash, where he will come up against another former Barcelona midfielder, Swansea boss Michael Laudrup.

Laudrup has impressed since moving to the Liberty Stadium and the style Swansea employ has attracted admirers.

Further success at Swansea could see the Dane move to a club challenging at the top end of the Premier League, where tactics are one of numerous concerns.

Benitez said: "The style of football the team had under (Paulo) Sousa, Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers was good for him because it's the way that he likes to play.

"But when you're managing in the middle of the table it's easy to bring in young players, it's easy to play a certain style. It's when you're at the top or the bottom when it's harder to impose your ideas.

"Football is quite complicated now. You have to manage a lot of things. That's something you have to analyse carefully."

Benitez has confidence his side can overturn their deficit, but believes Swansea are favourites.

"At the moment they are favourites," he said. "I'm sure they will be delighted if they can go to the final, so they have some pressure too."

Benitez and his squad discussed the missed opportunities from the first leg, when Branislav Ivanovic made two errors which were punished.

"They know this is an opportunity and we have to do our best because we deserved more in the first game," Benitez said. "They had just two chances because we made two mistakes.

"He (Ivanovic) doesn't need to prove anything. He's doing that every week. If he can score the winning goal, I'm sure he will be happier."

If selected, Ivanovic could be joined in defence by Ashley Cole, who has signed a one-year contract extension, and captain John Terry.

Terry has not started since November 11 when he suffered a knee injury in the first half of the draw with Liverpool.

The 32-year-old defender has made just one brief substitute appearance since, against Stoke, and was an unused replacement for the draw with Southampton and the defeat of Arsenal.

"It's been 16 weeks without training," Benitez said. "He's been training with the team maybe only four or five sessions.

"He's doing a specific programme and doing well, and we're happy, but it depends if he's ready to play the games or not. He still has to play games."