A year to the day since we lifted the Champions League, the Blues secured a third-place Premier League finish and automatic qualification for next season’s competition with a 2-1 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge.
Player of the Year Juan Mata had given us the lead with a simple finish early on, before Steven Naismith equalised for the visitors seven minutes later.
Fernando Torres scored the decisive goal in the 76th minute – his 22nd of the campaign – after good work by Oscar and Victor Moses, and though there were opportunities at both ends in the closing stages, that’s how it remained.
For Rafael Benitez, it was the perfect way to end his spell in charge of the Blues, particularly following on from the midweek Europa League triumph over Benfica, and he was left to reflect, not only on the win over David Moyes’s side, but his overall spell at the helm in west London.
‘To play 69 games with this group of players, and not a big squad, it means the medical department, fitness coaches and coaches have been doing a great job,’ he said. ‘Also, the players have been taking care of themselves.
‘It was great; this is a top side challenging for trophies, playing two games a week without much time to go on holiday.
‘The relationship with the staff and players has been quite good, you can feel it every week a little bit more. Winning some games in the style we did and changing things at half-time, like we did sometimes, creates a sense of union, and enables you to stick together more and more.’
On today’s performance
‘I wasn’t happy with the chances they had, I was pleased with the chances we had, it was a very open game in the first half but we changed some movements and positioning at half-time.
‘You could see at the beginning of the second half we were pushing and on top of them, regaining balls and creating chances. When we scored our goal they were pushing, with Fellaini higher up the pitch, and we had a few problems, but the main thing is we won, we scored 147 goals, [Paulo] Ferreira played his last game and everybody is happy.’
‘We knew playing Fernando up front with Demba could have been a problem for us defensively because [Seamus] Coleman was going forward but we knew we would create chances. In the end, I didn’t like the situation so I tried to balance it out with Moses, and the players were keen to do it.’
On the overall squad improvements
‘You have seen a lot of players improving. Today [Victor] Moses was very important in the second half, but David Luiz, [Cesar] Azpilicueta, Oscar, even Mata have been at a good level. [Frank] Lampard, without playing every single game, has been fresh and scoring goals, so we have a lot of players that have been improving, and they will be even better in the future.’
On Fernando Torres
‘It’s not just about Premier League goals, every goal is important. I said when we bought Demba Ba it would be good for Fernando because we could play one in each competition when we were in the Europa League and Demba couldn’t play. To allow Demba Ba to score in the Premier League means Fernando has been scoring in the Europa League.’
A final message
‘The majority of them [fans] were very positive in the end, which was good. We tried to do our best until the end.
‘It’s been a great experience. We took a team that was in transition with young players and we have left a good team with more experience, good character and more balance, so it will be good for the next manager as he will have a good team. I think the owner will bring more players, so this team will be challenging for the title next year.’
His opposite number, meanwhile, who was taking charge of Everton for the final time ahead of his impending switch to Manchester United, paid tribute to his players.
‘It’s difficult to sum up in a few words, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and I hope I’m leaving the club in a better condition than when I took over,’ he said. ‘They have some top, top players.
‘I thought it was a good game and I’m sad that I’m leaving Everton. Managers don’t get an opportunity to improve themselves if they don’t have good players, and the group I’ve had have enabled me to succeed.’