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No lap of honour for Chelsea interim manager Benitez
Rafael Benitez led Chelsea to third place in the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 victory over Everton before deciding not to bid farewell to his fiercest critics, the home supporters at Stamford Bridge.
After Fernando Torres' first Premier League goal of 2013 sealed a 2-1 win over Manchester United-bound David Moyes' Toffees, captain John Terry, midfielder Frank Lampard and utility man Paulo Ferreira addressed the crowd, whose celebrations included a chorus for Jose Mourinho.
None of the trio mentioned Benitez, who opted to leave the lap of appreciation for the players, after succeeding in his mission to lead Chelsea to a Champions League return and silverware, with Wednesday's Europa League final win. "It's for the families and the players," said Benitez, who was praised by the players following the defeat of Benfica.
"I received hundreds of messages, more than 200 messages on the website, from Chelsea fans saying 'thank you very much'. For me that is enough, and also the players telling me things privately. The majority of [the supporters] were very positive in the end. That is good. We couldn't change the opinion of some of them. We tried to do our best until the end."
The defeat of Everton was Chelsea's 28th win in 48 games of Benitez's seven-month reign, during which the Spaniard had to endure vitriol from a hostile support. The fans' disdain dissipated following Benitez's outspoken appeal at Middlesbrough in February, when he called for them to use their energies to back the team, rather than barrack him.
With champions Manchester United and Manchester City under new management next term, Benitez is confident Chelsea can challenge for the title under his successor, whether it is Mourinho or not. "This team will be challenging for the title next year," Benitez added.
"It has been a great experience. We've taken a team, a team in transition with young players, and now we have left a good team, with more experience, with good character, scoring goals, more balance. I think it will be good for the next manager, because he will have a very good team and also the owner [Roman Abramovich] will bring in more players."
Benitez does not know what awaits him and would not be drawn on his future beyond Monday's departure to the United States for the end of season tour, but his former Merseyside rival immediately begins work as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor at Old Trafford.
Moyes said: "I'll probably be doing two jobs for the next week or so. I'm sad that I'm leaving Everton. Look at the players. I brought every one of them, except Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman, who were already here. I hope every one of them will think it was worthwhile joining Everton.
"I hope I'm leaving the club in a better condition than when I took over and I think the group of players they've got are a top group of players."
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