Benitez: Win can be platform for ‘great’ season

RAFAEL Benitez hopes to make a “great” season for Chelsea even better after the holders advanced to the FA Cup semi-finals at the expense of Manchester United.

The Jekyll and Hyde Blues are also still chasing Europa League glory and a top-four Premier League finish that will bring Champions League qualification next term, although that particular challenge was derailed by Southampton on Saturday. Chelsea recovered against United yesterday though, and Benitez said: “We had a turning point two weeks ago. One game [at Southampton], it seemed that everything changed.

“The race for the top four will be until the end of the season. We’re in the top four with one game in hand so we’re in a very good position.

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“We’re in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, quarter-finals of the Europa League. It’s a great season, at the moment. It could be even better.”

The turning point to which Benitez – unpopular at Stamford Bridge due to his prior association with Liverpool – refers was at Old Trafford in the original tie, when United raced to a 2-0 lead only for Chelsea to respond to force the replay.

It is a lead that United will now regret blowing. Javier Hernandez had an opportunity to level yesterday when he met a Danny Welbeck cross, but Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was somehow able to divert the ball over.

“Cech’s save from Chicharito was unbelievable,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. “I think if we had got that goal then we would have been OK. It may have gone to extra time, of course, but it would have brought us back into the game and we didn’t need to go chasing it. ”

Ferguson, who was without Wayne Rooney due to a groin injury sustained on England duty, was unimpressed with the performance of his side.

“Over the 90 minutes only Antonio Valencia reached the standard we expect of them,” Ferguson said.

“Phil Jones [did] for a good part of the game, of course, and David de Gea did well, but in terms of the 90-minute performance Antonio Valencia was the only one.”