Rafael Benitez unimpressed by narrow Chelsea win

Sparta Prague's Ondrej Svejdik, left, looks on as Chelsea's Oscar scores the winner in the first'leg tie. Picture: Petr David Josek/AP
Sparta Prague's Ondrej Svejdik, left, looks on as Chelsea's Oscar scores the winner in the first'leg tie. Picture: Petr David Josek/AP
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RAFAEL Benitez called for Chelsea to be more clinical and again defended Fernando Torres following the unconvincing 1-0 Europa League win at Sparta Prague.

With a stalemate looming and the visiting fans’ ire for Benitez and Torres increasing, Oscar came off the bench to score the winner eight minutes from time to give last season’s Champions League winners the advantage ahead of next week’s second leg of the last 32-tie at Stamford Bridge.

“Eighteen attempts away is not bad, but we have to be more clinical in attack,” Benitez said.

“The first 20 minutes we were in control. We had some half chances; it was a cross, we weren’t there. We were in control.

“After this 20 minutes they were pushing and pushing. The team, as a team, had problems defending.

“We changed a little bit in the second half. I think the concentration of the team was much better, the intensity in defence was much better and then we had more control.”

Many of the missed opportunities fell to Torres, a £50 million striker who now has one goal in 13 games.

Torres missed a straightforward effort after 35 minutes when teed up by Juan Mata and sliced a second-half shot out for a throw-in in another impotent display at the Generali Arena.

Benitez, who managed Torres at Liverpool, refused to criticise his compatriot, even though the World Cup winner did not make an effort to meet two early crosses from Eden Hazard and looked disinterested at times.

“We have to create more opportunities and the strikers will score more goals,” Benitez said.

“Everybody expects from a striker just to score goals, but he’s doing also a great job for the team.”

Captain John Terry travelled to Prague after missing last Saturday’s 4-1 Barclays Premier League defeat of Wigan with inflammation of his knee, but was kept on the bench.

Ashley Cole was also an unused substitute, due to a cold and Benitez’s wish to give Ryan Bertrand an opportunity.

Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill played in central defence as the Blues recorded back-to-back wins for the first time since December and kept a clean sheet for a second time in eight games.

Terry, who has started just twice under Benitez, who was appointed in November, may yet return for Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round replay with Brentford.

“He had a setback,” Benitez said. “After he was fine again. He had no reaction in the next training session.

“It’s a vicious circle: if he cannot play, he cannot improve his match fitness. We have to manage.

After ending Sparta’s 
11-match unbeaten home run in Europe, Benitez is now optimistic of progressing to a last 16 tie against Ajax or Steaua Bucharest.

“We have scored the away goal and we have to finish the job at home,” he said. “We know it will not be easy.”

Chelsea were playing in the Europa League for the first time since 2002 and at times appeared reluctant to partake in the second-rank European competition.

Benitez said: “That is the competition that we have to play now.

“It’s a European competition and they (the players) have to realise it’s an opportunity to win a trophy.