Benitez keeps peace as Chelsea make last 16
Rafael Benitez played the peacemaker as Chelsea thrashed Brentford 4-0 to reach the FA Cup fifth round despite a series of off-field distractions.
Rafael Benitez has endured a stormy time at Stamford Bridge since replacing Roberto Di Matteo in November and there seems no end in sight to the list of problems for the beleaguered Spaniard.
While League One minnows Brentford were eventually dispatched in emphatic fashion on Sunday thanks to second half goals from Juan Mata, Oscar, Frank Lampard and John Terry, it was the continuing soap opera surrounding the manager and two of his key players that hogged the limelight.
Benitez finally restored Terry to the starting line-up after several weeks of confusion over the fitness of Chelsea's captain, who believed he was ready to return from a knee injury while his boss wasn't so sure.
A report on Sunday claimed Benitez and Terry had become embroiled in a furious row after the Spaniard allegedly blamed his key defender for two of Newcastle's goals in a defeat at St James' Park.
But Benitez moved to quash that accusation and then set about answering the latest questions about both his own future and that of England midfielder Lampard, who scored his 199th goal for the club but has yet to be offered an extension to the contract which expires at the end of the season.
"We were surprised today with some comments," said Benitez when asked about the Terry story.
"It's totally rubbish. We didn't have any problem. We were talking about football with the team. He was training and we had normal conversations. Everything was fine. I was really surprised."
Terry agreed with his manager, adding: "I read those stories in the paper but it is completely lazy journalism. It's total rubbish."
The situation with Lampard is equally complicated.
Benitez admitted early in his reign he had been told the 34-year-old would be released at the end of his contract, but Lampard's form has been so strong and the protests from Chelsea's fans so vociferous that Blues owner Roman Abramovich may yet change his mind.
"Every time I will keep the same answer. He is doing well, scoring goals and hopefully he can score another 15 until the end. That will be good for everyone," Benitez said of the impasse over Lampard's future.
Lampard and Terry are of course assured of being feted as Chelsea legends whenever they do eventually depart, but Benitez is facing a fight just to see out the rest of his short-term deal until the end of the season.
After being snubbed by Pep Guardiola, who has committed himself to Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp, Abramovich has reportedly turned his attentions to Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini.
Abramovich was at the Bridge as Chelsea saw off Brentford to set up a fifth round trip to Middlesbrough, with the winners of that delayed tie due to face Manchester United or Reading in the quarter-finals.
But the Russian hasn't spoken to Benitez for several weeks, fuelling further questions about Benitez's grip on his job, although the former Liverpool manager refused to be drawn on the situation.
"I don't know what he thought because I was concentrating on the game," Benitez said. "I don't know if he came to the dressing room because I'm here with the press. We will see if I see him later."