Chelsea's Rafael Benítez in Upbeat Mood Before Nordsjaelland Decider

Rafa Benitez

For a man whose presence at Chelsea continues to rile the club's support, his adopted team engulfed in their most prolonged domestic slump in virtually a generation and their defence of the European Cup hanging by a thread, Rafael Benítez did well to offer up such a cheery disposition.

He delivered playful apologies for a garish training jacket at his pre-match media briefing, conceding fluorescent yellow was not his colour, and later reacted to a mobile telephone trilling among his audience by suggesting: "If it's the wife you'd better answer, just in case …" The Spaniard needs to be armed with good humour at present.

Life at Chelsea is no laughing matter. Unwanted history awaits on Wednesday should Juventus avoid defeat in distant Donetsk, a result that would propel the reigning European champions kicking and screaming out of the competition 200 days after that heady night in Munich, even if they beat Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge. The Europa League would feel like an indignity but all the interim first-team manager can focus upon is achieving a first victory in the vague hope that the Italian team slip up, with this a situation he has inherited from his predecessor. Even the club's fans may struggle to pin the blame for a third-place finish on the Spaniard if the Danes are defeated but Juve make their point.

Yet other issues remain more pressing. Dismal domestic league form has been maintained, not reversed, by Benítez's appointment and players up and down the spine of his side are still bereft of confidence. It said much about the state of flux at this club that arguably the funniest thing uttered by the manager in his press conference was not supposed to be amusing. Fernando Torres, Benítez said, had been "amazing" against West Ham on Saturday, though the £50m British record signing had shown his prowess not in the opposition penalty area but while repelling the hosts' corners at the other end. Any crumb of comfort has to be seized upon these days.

"Fernando is a great player and his team-mates know he's a great player," said Benítez. "If he's in the right position, they will play with him. If he's in the wrong positions, maybe not. The main thing is what you can see as a manager on the pitch and in training, and Fernando is doing a great job. We had a training session on Monday with finishing and Fernando scored a lot of goals. I think he has more confidence and his team-mates know that he's trying very hard, and that is the main thing for me.

"It is not just scoring goals. I will say something: we changed his position at corners, for example, and if you analyse the corners against, he was amazing. Two or three times he's cleared the ball and, afterwards, was just doing man-to-man because it's what he had to do. He's a big lad, good in the air … he's helping the team, in this case to defend. As a striker, you'd like him to score goals, but I would be happy to see the team winning even if Fernando is not scoring. Winning is the main thing. Fernando will be an important player for us, is an important player for us. He will score goals and his confidence will go high again."

The forward's only goal since the first week in October was a ricochet against Shakhtar, and he would benefit from scoring against fragile opponents on Wednesday night. Nordsjaelland were eventually accommodating in Copenhagen, succumbing 4-0 back when Roberto Di Matteo's team led this section, and have shipped 16 goals in the group. Chelsea need an emphatic victory, regardless of whether it secures progress, just to pep confidence ahead of the weekend trip to Sunderland and the Club World Cup to come. The players realise recent displays have been unacceptable. "Our memories of Munich are still so recent," said Juan Mata. "That was just six months ago. I want to think in a positive way, that we can still get through. But if we want to win the Club World Cup, or the Premier League or other competitions, we have to do better. Rafa is a very experienced manager and he's trying to help us. We're trying to help him, too."

Benítez will crave an urgent start, an early goal and a lift for a troubled club. He has experienced unlikely progress in this competition before, not least when Liverpool left it so late in their final group game eight years ago to secure victory by two goals against Olympiakos and a place in the knockout phase. Steven Gerrard's third for the hosts that night, thrashed in from distance with four minutes remaining, proved the first little miracle en route to a staggering night in Istanbul, yet the Merseysiders had their fate in their own hands. Chelsea do not.

The manager can think only pragmatically about the task ahead. "I have to take responsibility, but I have only been here for 10 days," he said. "It's not like I'm taking responsibility for the last five years. That's not the case. We have to perform and win. If we do, hopefully that would be a boost for the next game." His players, he added, had not been unsettled by the recent upheaval. "In football now, to change managers is something you expect," he said. "A lot of people expect it almost every month." Such is life at Chelsea. He will do well to retain that good humour in the weeks ahead.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dominic Fifield, for The Guardian on Tuesday 4th December 2012 20.13 Europe/London

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