Chelsea returned to the Premier League's top three on Wednesday night with a resounding 3-0 victory at Fulham, strengthening their grip on a Champions League qualification place, while reports in Spain suggested the club are making tentative progress in their pursuit of a permanent manager.

An adviser for the Málaga coach, Manuel Pellegrini, is understood to have met Chelsea officials this week to discuss the possibility of taking up the reins at Stamford Bridge in the summer once Rafael Benítez's interim stewardship has run its course. The Chilean, who has coached at Real Madrid and enjoyed a successful spell with Villarreal, took Málaga to the quarter-finals of the Champions League this term despite continuing financial problems at the Spanish club, before they lost to Borussia Dortmund.

The 59-year-old speaks good English and is renowned as a disciplinarian who has implemented a brand of attractive, attacking football. His contract with Málaga expires at the end of next season but includes a buy-out clause believed to be set at around £3.4m, though it remains to be seen whether he can be persuaded to swap Spain for Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea, who appointed Benítez on a seven-month contract to succeed Roberto Di Matteo, intend to make a formal offer to their preferred candidate only once it is clear whether they have qualified for the Champions League. They are sounding out potential managers, with Pellegrini high on their shortlist.

José Mourinho is another possibility and has made clear his desire to return to London if, as expected, he leaves Real Madrid in the summer. David Moyes, whose contract at Everton expires in June, and the Atlético Madrid coach, Diego Simeone, have also made an impression, while Gianfranco Zola's progress at Watford has been noted even if these remain early days in the Italian's managerial career.

Benítez's hopes of leaving Chelsea with Champions League football were boosted by a first away success in the league since mid-January, the recalled John Terry scoring twice to defeat Fulham and remind the interim manager of his qualities. Regardless, the former England captain is likely to return to the bench for Sunday's trip to Liverpool. "The important thing is always the team," said Benítez. "Every player wants to play every game, but they have to realise they can't do that and be 100% in each game.

"As for the Champions League, I said a long time ago that the race for the top four would go until the end for the season. It'll be like this and I don't think any of the clubs up there, including Everton, is out of it. Things can change with every game. We have to keep winning our games and keep going."