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Benitez gaining grudging respect at Chelsea

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 3, 2013 at 10:04 am •  Published: May 3, 2013

"I think what's key is that the fans have settled down a bit," Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, a long-time foe of Benitez's, said on Friday. "They have left him alone and he's gone on doing his job, because it can't be easy listening to criticism from fans all the time."

"They've eased off on him," added Ferguson, who will renew his touchline rivalry with the Spaniard in a Premier League game on Sunday, "and it's allowed him to relax himself. He has produced some good results and he has picked the right teams in the right games. He has rested and brought in certain players. It's been a good period for him."

Faced with a game every three or four days since the start of February, Benitez has to be given credit for the way he has rotated his squad to deal with the demands of a punishing, unprecedented schedule.

Terry and Lampard, fans' favorites in southwest London, have had to be content with playing every other week, often in the less important games. That policy did not work for former manager Andre Villas-Boas but Benitez has emerged the better for it.

Playing David Luiz — a central defender — as a center midfielder at times has been a masterstroke while playmakers Juan Mata and Eden Hazard look to have been given the right amount of game time to keep them in good shape for the final month of the season.

"I was helping the team," Benitez said. "As a manager you have to do your job."

For a person who's never shy of talking up his own achievements as a coach — Champions League and UEFA Cup titles, a Spanish league championship, a Club World Cup — Benitez will be desperate to finish his time at Chelsea with the Europa League won and a top-four place in the Premier League secured. Chelsea is third with four games left.

"He is very concerned about his CV. He refers to it quite a lot," Ferguson said mockingly, before adding: "But you can't dispute the fact he has done a good job."

After his recent comments, Mourinho is the man most likely to succeed Benitez this summer although the manner of the Portuguese coach's departure from Stamford Bridge in 2007 must still rankle with owner Roman Abramovich.

"I have not made any decision about whether I will stay or go," Mourinho said on Friday about his future at Real Madrid.

The hard-to-please Abramovich could do worse than stick with Benitez.