Rafael Benitez bids to smooth rift as Neil Warnock hints at avoiding handshake

Neil Warnock: Unforgiving after blaming Benitez for relegation. Picture: Getty
Neil Warnock: Unforgiving after blaming Benitez for relegation. Picture: Getty
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CHELSEA’S interim manager Rafael Benitez has reminded Neil Warnock that Sheffield United’s relegation from the Barclays Premier League was not decided by one match alone.

Warnock, the Leeds manager, is unsure whether he will shake Benitez’s hand before tonight’s Capital One Cup quarter-final at Elland Road due to a dispute between the two dating back to 200,7 when 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 in an effort to avoid controversy but pointed out to Warnock that survival is determined over the course of the season. 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 him. 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 tonight, Chelsea will have been denied a fifth piece of silverware this season following Sunday’s defeat by Corinthians in the Club World Cup final. The jet-lagged Blues arrived back from Japan on Monday afternoon and depart for Yorkshire today, continuing a hectic schedule that means the Leeds Leeds will be Benitez’s eighth in charge since taking over 25 days ago.

Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel, Gary Cahill and Ramires are suspended and, while striker Daniel Sturridge may return from his hamstring injury, John Terry is still struggling with the knee problem sustained against Liverpool on 11 November.

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.

Since losing to Manchester City in the FA Community Shield in August, Chelsea have been found wanting in big matches this season with their Champions League group exit the lowest point to date. 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 going in the right direction but we need to be more consistent.”