A late Oscar goal saw the Blues secure a 1-0 win away at Sparta Prague in the Europa League, a result which sees us go into next week’s return leg at Stamford Bridge with a slight advantage.
It was a game which, for long spells, looked to be heading for a draw, before the Brazilian came off the bench to make the difference.
Rafael Benitez acknowledged it wasn’t a stand-out display, but was delighted to be heading home with a win, and what could turn out to be a crucial away goal.
On the performance
‘We started really well, in the first 20 minutes we were in control and we had some chances,’ said Benitez. ‘After that they were pushing and we had some problems in defence. Individually the defenders were doing a great job, but as a team we had problems.
‘We changed a few things in the second half and had more control, the concentration and intensity was much better.
‘Eighteen attempts on goal away from home isn’t bad but we must be more clinical in attack.’
On the decisive substitution
‘Normally you try to change things, [Juan] Mata was doing a great job but he was a bit tired in my opinion. I needed fresh legs and the quality of Oscar was very good because he made the difference.’
On the decision to leave John Terry and Ashley Cole on the bench
‘Terry had a slight setback during the week and then he was fine again, he had no reaction in the next training session, but we have to manage the situation.
‘He has to train with the team regularly and then he will have more chance to play, but it’s a vicious circle because if he doesn’t play he can’t improve his match fitness.
‘We have to manage and in the meantime [Gary] Cahill and [Branislav] Ivanovic are doing well. They were doing really well in training and they did well today, I was really pleased with both, so credit to them.
‘Ashley had a cold but we wanted to give Ryan Bertrand a chance. To manage the squad it’s a good option to have.’
On Sparta Prague and the return leg
‘They had five weeks to prepare for the game and it’s always easier if you have time. We knew from watching their games against Athletic Bilbao and Lyon that they were a good team, so it wasn’t a surprise, it was just confirmation that they are a strong team.
‘We have confidence but we have a lot of respect for Sparta. At least we’ve scored the away goal and we need to finish the job at home. We know it won’t be easy but we have an advantage.’
On the importance of the Europa League
‘This is the competition we have to play in now, the players have to realise it’s another opportunity to win a trophy. If we progress, they will see that, and hopefully we can keep the team playing well and winning games until the end.’