Less than four days after the jubilation of their dramatic Europa League triumph, Chelsea can end Rafael Benitez’s short reign on a further high note by securing third place in the Premier League with a victory over Everton on Sunday.
After what has been a difficult spell in charge, the Spaniard answered many of his critics by guiding his side to silverware, courtesy of Branislav Ivanovic’s late winner against Benfica in Amsterdam. But the priority for the club’s hierarchy has always been ensuring a place in next season’s Champions League. While a spot in the top four has already been sewn up, Benitez knows that third place will mean the club avoiding a qualifier to get into the lucrative Champions League group phase.
“We want to win, I don't expect any draw,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “If Arsenal win we will see, but also Tottenham can say something. We have to approach the day for us thinking about to win and after see what happens.
“We have to concentrate on what we can do and try to win our game,” he added. “We have been working so hard in the season that it would be a pity if we could not finish in the top three.”
There could yet be an unprecedented playoff for third place, if Chelsea draw and Arsenal win by a two-goal margin while scoring two more goals than the Blues. But Benitez is not contemplating such a scenario.
“We will try to win and we won't consider any other option,” he explained. “If we have to do it, these are the rules, but we will try to avoid the situation. I have confidence we will do it.”
Benitez will be unable to call upon John Terry, Eden Hazard and Ryan Bertrand, who remain out injured. Demba Ba will be back in contention after being ineligible for the Europa League final.
While Benitez will be ending his short reign on Sunday, his opposite number will be bowing out after 11 years in charge. Everton boss David Moyes has agreed to take over at Manchester United this summer and had an emotional farewell to Goodison Park in last week’s impressive 2-0 victory over West Ham. Although Everton are locked in sixth place in the Premier League, Moyes is keen to find some motivation for his squad.
“We hope it's not a dead duck of a game,” he said, according to Everton’s official website. “It's not got the most riding on it, that's for sure. We can't get any further up the league and we can't go any further down. But what we can do is get our record points total."
There will be no farewell on the pitch for Everton captain Phil Neville, though. The 36-year-old, who has announced that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season, is still sidelined with a knee injury. Leon Osman will also be missing following an injury picked up last time out.
D: Azpiicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole
M: Ramires, Luiz
Oscar, Mata, Moses
D: Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines
M: Mirallas, Gibson, Fellaini, Pienaar
Prediction: While many fans may be reluctant to admit it, Benitez has managed his unbalanced squad through a relentless schedule extremely well. There may be a couple of changes to the side that triumphed in Amsterdam, but the Blues should maintain their momentum. Everton were excellent against West Ham, but they have continually struggled away at the Premier League’s best sides. Chelsea are more in need of the points and they should get them too.
Chelsea 1-0 Everton
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League contest will kick-off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Soccer Plus, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.