Rafa Benitez is never quite satisfied. Even after watching his team thrash Aston Villa 8-0, his side's joint biggest league win and Villa's heaviest defeat, he spoke of things that could be better. Jonathan Wilson reports
Chelsea 8 Aston Villa 0
LONDON // Rafa Benitez is never quite satisfied. Even after watching his team thrash Aston Villa 8-0, his side's joint biggest league win and Villa's heaviest defeat, he spoke of things that could be better.
"You could see from the beginning the team was concentrated and had belief and confidence in themselves," he said. "From the first minute against a team with good movement we were doing well, but there are things we can improve."
It is that drive, of course, that marks him out: nothing is ever quite good enough.
"Always to win is special but the main thing for me is to improve, we can see the team is growing," he said. "But I was impressed by the way they were playing, the shape."
Benitez had said last week he felt the Chelsea fans were beginning to warm to him and - up to a point - he may be right.
His arrival is no longer greeted by boos and there are no banners personally attacking him, but it is a slow process of acceptance.
Fans still chanted for his predecessor, Roberto di Matteo, when the clocked reached 16 minutes - the former midfielder's squad number when he was a player for the London club.
Even more than most relationships in modern football, this is a marriage of convenience; fans will accept Benitez so long as Chelsea are winning - and, at present they are.
The defeat to Corinthians in the Club World Cup final edged the pendulum back towards scorn and when Chelsea trailed Leeds United 1-0 at half time in the quarter-final of the Capital One Cup last week there was a sense that the relationship could sink into irreconcilable discord.
Five goals in the second half of that game, though, restored a sense of momentum, while yesterday's victory pushes Chelsea up to third, having closed the gap on Manchester United, the leaders, to 11 points with a game in hand.
The win could hardly have been simpler. Fernando Torres, who has become almost visibly more confident over the past month, met Cesar Azpilicueta's cross with a powerful header to put Chelsea ahead after three minutes and David Luiz, impressing in midfield, thumped in a free kick just before the half-hour.
Branislav Ivanovic nodded in after Brad Guzan had saved from Gary Cahill before Frank Lampard hammered in a low drive to mark his 500th Premier League start with his 130th goal for the club - surpassing Bobby Tambling's top-flight record. Ramires made it five from Lucas Piazon's through ball, Oscar converted a penalty (Piazon later missed one), Eden Hazard lashed in after a neat one-two and Ramires sidefooted in for Chelsea's eighth.
Villa were so open at the back, but this was football at its most ruthless - a team driving for goals long after the three points were secure. Some of Benitez's perfectionism, perhaps, has rubbed off.
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