Thursday, December 7, 2023

Grant slams Benitez´s mind games

Chelsea manager Avram Grant accused Rafa Benitez of deliberately putting pressure on the officials ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool.

Benitez angered Grant over the weekend when he revealed he had compiled a video dossier on Didier Drogba to show his defenders how to avoid being conned by the Chelsea striker’s penchant for exaggerating fouls.

The Liverpool manager also expressed his unhappiness with UEFA’s choice of Roberto Rossetti to referee the Stamford Bridge showdown because he believes the Italian favours home teams.

In Rossetti’s five Champions League matches this season, the hosts have won on four occasions, with the only away win being Chelsea’s success in Valencia.

But Grant is convinced Benitez’s claims are intended to ensure Rossetti is keen not to be seen to give any borderline decisions to Chelsea.

“I think he is trying to affect the referee but he will not do that,” Grant said.

“Rafa can say whatever he wants and I can say why he said it. You can ask him why he said that but the reason is clear.

“I will not speak about the players at Liverpool and what they do, so I don’t like that another coach speaks about my player.

“I think he is trying to distract attention from what happened in the first leg. I respect Rafa Benitez and he can always say whatever he wants but it is 1-1.

“The referee could easily have given a penalty for us and a yellow card to (Jamie) Carragher so he wouldn’t play on Wednesday. Even the goal was offside by (Ryan) Babel. To me this is the case and Rafa is trying to take attention from it.

“It is good psychology but I don’t think it will affect the referee.”

Since Drogba confessed two years ago that he was prone to dive, the Ivorian has cleaned up his game to a large extent, although there are still occasional bouts of the theatrics that so infuriated Benitez at Anfield.

But Grant is adamant Drogba deserves more protection because Liverpool’s defenders will resort to foul means to stop him.

“Because he is a powerful player the referee needs to whistle more for him,” Grant said. “If you see the Liverpool game and what their defenders did to him, you will see the referee was very polite.

“The defenders think there are other ways to stop him because he is so powerful and stronger than them.”

Grant will wait until the last minute to let Frank Lampard decide if he wants to play as the England midfielder continues to mourn the death of his mother.

Lampard missed Saturday’s win over Manchester United but has been training again since Sunday.

“He is doing everything. We know his situation to be available for the game but we are before the training session so we will see,” Grant said.

Grant was in positive mood ahead of a defining moment in his Chelsea career. After months of being criticised by fans and pundits, the Israeli is on the verge of taking the club to their first Champions League final – a feat which proved beyond his predecessor Jose Mourinho.

John Arne Riise’s stoppage time own goal in the first leg at Anfield has put Chelsea in pole position and now a goalless draw would be enough to send them through to the final in Moscow on May 21.

Grant acknowledges Chelsea can’t truely be regarded as one of Europe’s big club until they have earned their stripes in the continent’s elite competition.

The Blues have stumbled at this stage three times in the last four years and Grant can’t wait to make history.

“It is very important for the club and I am here to serve them,” he said.

“Chelsea wants to be a big club and to do that we need to be in the Champions League final. It would create history.”


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