Chelsea’s match winner Juan Mata one of the best - Rafa Benitez
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez hailed Juan Mata as one of the best players in the Barclays Premier League after the Spaniard struck the winner in yesterday's 1-0 victory at Carrow Road.
Despite not hitting the heights of the 8-0 thrashing dished out to Aston Villa on Sunday, Chelsea were the better side in a game that lacked any sustained quality.
Mata struck from 25 yards in the 38th minute to settle the match and condemn Norwich to a second defeat in four days, with the Canaries failing to truly test Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech over the course of the game.
The win moves the Blues to within four points of Manchester City in the Premier League table and Benitez was full of praise for his compatriot.
'He is playing really well,' he said.
'Even without the ball he is working hard but when we are in possession he is making the difference, I always say the same; if the team are playing well these players can make the difference.
'I think the Premier League has a lot of good players and Mata is one of the best for sure – he can be even better. Mata is a player who is dangerous – inside the box and outside the box, we are really pleased with him.
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'The team has won three games in a row since Japan...Norwich have won against Manchester United and Arsenal so we knew it could be tough, I'm pleased for the team and pleased for Juan.'
Reflecting on the performance of his side, Benetez added: 'We were working very hard. We had one or two chances to score a second goal but in these games a free-kick, corner or counter-attack can make a difference.
'They were pushing until the end. It's important to see the team working hard and defending well. We have another clean sheet. Today we could manage and control against a good team. They were pushing and dangerous on the counter-attack but we did our job in defence. The team is defending well.
'We are in a good position. It could be better but I think we are doing well in the last month and the team is progressing. We can manage different games and still get the result and that's important. We showed we can defend and work hard in difficult conditions. We're in a good position but we will still try to improve.
Benitez left Frank Lampard on the bench for the trip to Norfolk amid speculation he will leave Stamford Bridge next summer.
But the former Liverpool boss was bullish about the future of Lampard and fellow England star Ashley Cole.
'From my position it is very easy, it is a private conversation between Frank and the club and that is it. He is a good player and I would like to bring the best from him, that is my position. I don't know if Ashley has had the conversations or not but, for me, they are players under contract, good players.
'After being injured like Lampard was, we needed fresh legs and we have to manage the squad,' he said
'We can't play so many game with the same players so we have to manage and everyone is important.'