sport

Rafa demands CL qualification

Rafael Benitez insists finishing in the top four is more important for Chelsea than winning trophies - or even his own future - this season.

Benitez arrived at Stamford Bridge in November determined to land some silverware during his spell as interim manager.

But he has instead watched one piece after another slip from his grasp in the midst of a campaign in which Chelsea have competed on an unprecedented number of fronts.

Two trophies could vanish in the space of five days if they follow up Wednesday's Capital One Cup exit with an FA Cup fourth-round shock defeat at Brentford on Sunday.

But despite no Chelsea manager having survived the axe at the end of a barren season since Roman Abramovich bought the club, Benitez left little doubt what the Russian expected of him.

He said: "My idea is very clear. We have to be in the top four in terms of doing well and try to progress in the other competitions.

"But not just to get the job. It's just what we have to do."

He added: "We want to win every game, we want to win every trophy available.

"The FA Cup is our next target, we will try to do it.

"The priority is very clear. Finish in the top four and try to progress and try to go, as much as we can, to the final or to the semi-final.

"The most important thing, to be in the Champions League next year."

An FA Cup exit against npower League One opponents would certainly not be considered progress in a competition Chelsea have won an amazing four times in six years, including last season.

Benitez said: "As a top side, you have to win. And you play against a team in another division, so you have to win."

Benitez knows all about cup shocks from his time at Liverpool, who suffered ignominious exits at the hands of Burnley, Barnsley and Reading during his six years in charge.

Almost invariably, they would occur when the Spaniard rested several key players, something he was also considering doing tomorrow after admitting yesterday some of Chelsea's slimline squad were running on empty.

Defending the rotation policy which will likely see recalls for Paulo Ferreira and Ryan Bertrand in addition to John Terry, Benitez said: "You can make one mistake in one game.

"It does not mean that the approach is not good enough."

The last time Benitez made sweeping changes, Chelsea crashed to defeat in a west London derby, with QPR winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez believes the Brentford game would be "totally different" on a pitch that was "not the best".

He added: "But it's a game that you will play against a team that is close and it will be a massive, massive motivation for them too."

Like Chelsea, Brentford lie third in their own division.

Benitez said: "I have seen some games and I was talking with the scout.

"They can play in different ways. They can switch.

"They can play long, they can try to win second balls.

"So, quite an interesting team and they are doing well."

Benitez also insisted Chelsea were heading in the right direction under his leadership, despite their succession of high-profile flops.

"I have analysed things we have done well and wrong and still I think we are on the right path," he said.

"The question is obviously, as I say, one game can make a big difference.

"But in terms of preparation and improvement of the team, I think we are going in the right direction."

The Spaniard has been heavily linked with a job swap with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who is reportedly set to leave Real Madrid this summer.

Benitez would not be drawn, saying: "I'm really pleased to be here because it's a top side and I can work with good staff and good players, top-class players, and that is what I like to do, to challenge for trophies.

"Can you win? It is my experience that sometimes you can do everything right and still you will lose a final or a semi-final."