sport

Rafa refuses to be drawn into row

Chelsea interim boss Rafael Benitez has reminded Neil Warnock that Sheffield United's Premier League relegation was not decided by one match.

Warnock, the Leeds manager, is unsure whether he will shake Benitez's hand before Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final at Elland Road due to a dispute between the two dating back to 2007.

The acrimony erupted after Benitez selected what Warnock perceived to be a weakened team in Liverpool's penultimate game of the Premier League season against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Fulham won and United were relegated, prompting Warnock to declare he would "never forgive" Benitez, whose legal team later sent an email warning of possible action through the courts were he to be mentioned again.

The Spaniard is willing to shake hands tomorrow evening in an effort to avoid controversy, but pointed out to Warnock that survival is determined over the course of the season.

"Every person has their ideas of each other," Benitez said.

"I'm professional and will try to do my job and won't be involved in anything, but what I will say is that the league is 38 games and not just one match.

"I'm professional so I won't have any problem (shaking Warnock's hand). There will be a lot of people watching us, so we have to behave.

"I saw that he said he has an email from me threatening to sue hum, but I don't remember. It's true, but I didn't remember it.

"I will concentrate on my job and hopefully we can talk about football, which is best for the fans and everyone. We need to leave things on the pitch."

If Warnock exacts the revenge he craves at Elland Road tomorrow night, Chelsea will have been denied a fifth piece of silverware this season following Sunday's defeat by Corinthians is the Club World Cup final.

The jet-lagged Blues arrived back from Japan yesterday afternoon and depart for Yorkshire tomorrow, continuing a hectic schedule that means Leeds will be Benitez' eighth game in charge since taking over 25 days ago.

Chelsea's playing resources have been stretched by the loss of John Obi Mikel, Gary Cahill and Ramires to suspension and while striker Daniel Sturridge may return from his hamstring injury, John Terry is still struggling with the knee problem sustained against Liverpool on November 11.

The outlook on Terry is concerning with Benitez reluctant to offer a return date for Chelsea's captain, revealing only that his rehabilitation is proving unpredictable.

Frank Lampard will start at Elland Road, but Benitez was non-committal over his future with the England midfielder considering his options for the January transfer window.

"Frank is fully committed in every training session and every game. He's an important player for us

"But I can't say too much about what he feels or doesn't feel. He's doing well and I'm happy about his attitude."

Since losing to Manchester City in the FA Community Shield in mid-August, Chelsea have been found wanting in big matches this season with their Champions League group exit the lowest point yet.

Benitez, who believes the Blues remain in the Premier League title race despite trailing leaders City by 13 points, predicts a change in fortunes soon.

"It's easier to lose in big games because you play against better teams. Normally in finals the other teams are good too," he said.

"It's just a question of time until we start winning games in a row. We are progressing and are going in the right direction, but we need to be more consistent.

"Winning is especially important for us because when you change the manager and have so many matches you have to win to breed confidence in the new methods. There's no problem with team spirit."