Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez keen to avoid row with Neil Warnock
Capital One Cup quarter-final
- Venue: Elland Road
- Date: Wednesday, 19 December
Chelsea interim boss Rafa Benitez says he will shake hands with Leeds manager Neil Warnock before Wednesday's League Cup quarter-final at Elland Road.
Warnock has suggested he may refuse the pre-match gesture following a dispute between the two dating back to 2007.
Then Sheffield United boss Warnock felt Benitez's selection of a weakened Liverpool side at Fulham contributed to the Blades' relegation.
"I'm professional so I won't have any problem [shaking hands]," said Benitez.
"There will be a lot of people watching us, so we have to behave."
In the aftermath of Liverpool's 1-0 defeat at Fulham, who were involved in a relegation battle with Sheffield United, on the penultimate day of the 2006-07 season, Warnock said he would "never forgive" Benitez, whose legal team later sent an email warning of possible action through the courts were he to be mentioned again.
"Every person has their ideas of each other," Benitez said. "I'm professional and will try to do my job and won't be involved in anything, but what I will say is that the league is 38 games and not just one match.
"I saw that he said he has an email from me threatening to sue him, but I don't remember. It's true, but I didn't remember it.
Leeds v Chelsea all-time record
Leeds wins: 39 Chelsea wins: 33 Draws: 29
Leeds goals: 143 Chelsea goals: 129
Their last meeting was on 15 May 2004 when Jesper Gronkjaer's goal gave Chelsea a 1-0 victory over a Leeds side that, with Eddie Gray as caretaker manager, had already been relegated from the Premier League
"I will concentrate on my job and hopefully we can talk about football, which is best for the fans and everyone. We need to leave things on the pitch."
Chelsea and Leeds have a long-held rivalry dating back to the 1960s and 70s, when the two were embroiled in a number of tempestuous games, including the 1970 FA Cup final and its replay, but this is the first time they have faced each other in eight years.
Benitez, 52, says he will be ensuring his players are aware of the significance of matches between Chelsea and Leeds.
"I think so," said Benitez, when asked if his foreign players in particular knew of the rivalry. "But anyway we will talk with them and explain how important is every game, how important is the competition for us and how important will be the game for all the fans of both clubs. The history is quite interesting.
When Leeds and Chelsea went to war...
Former Leeds defender Norman 'Bites yer Legs' Hunter on his side's often brutal clashes with Chelsea in the 1960s and 70s:
"We were classed as 'dirty Leeds' but we were a good side - a great side. We could defend and if we went 1-0 up then most of the time that was the game over, whether it was home or away.
"We had that edge on Chelsea but, in certain situations, for the big games they had a few flair players who could come to the fore. Peter Osgood was one, Charlie Cooke was another."
"It's a night for good players, good professionals and people ready to perform on the pitch. We don't have to approach matches thinking too much about a battle. We have to approach games for football, try to play good football and enjoy it."
The Blues arrived back from Japan on Monday afternoon and trained on Tuesday morning. They will depart for Yorkshire on Wednesday morning, continuing a hectic schedule that means Leeds will be Benitez's eighth game in charge since taking over 25 days ago, including Sunday's World Club Cup defeat to Corinthians on Sunday.
Chelsea's playing resources have been stretched by the loss of defender Gary Cahill and midfielders Jon Mikel Obi and Ramires to suspension and while striker Daniel Sturridge may return from his hamstring injury, John Terry is still struggling with the knee problem sustained against Liverpool on 11 November.
"We trained, no problems at all, and the players said they were fine but we have to see tomorrow," said Benitez. "Training is the best way to recover quickly - a normal session, not too hard.
"We are ready now. We have suspensions but in terms of fitness we are fine."
After a promising start to the season, Chelsea have struggled in recent months, a period during which they sacked Benitez's predecessor Roberto Di Matteo and exited the Champions League at the group stage.
Benitez, who believes the Blues remain in the Premier League title race despite trailing leaders Manchester United by 13 points, predicts a change in fortunes soon.
"It's easier to lose in big games because you play against better teams," he added. "Normally in finals the other teams are good too.
"It's just a question of time until we start winning games in a row. We are progressing and are going in the right direction, but we need to be more consistent.
"Winning is especially important for us because when you change the manager and have so many matches you have to win to breed confidence in the new methods. There's no problem with team spirit."