Benitez: Rotation is key for Chelsea
Rafa Benitez has played down suggestions that his Chelsea side are tired as they prepare to face Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, just over 48 hours after their Europa League tie with Sparta Prague.
Benitez rested Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard for the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge which saw the Blues progress 2-1 on aggregate thanks to a late effort from Edin Hazard. However, with the games coming think and fast, it appears that more players will need to take a rest this weekend.
"Some teams have more time to prepare for the games, Sparta Prague have been preparing for a month and a half just for these two games [because of a winter break]," the manager said at his press conference. "We have been playing more games than any top side in Europe - 46 games is more than any other - but we knew that before the game and we have been resting players to keep energy levels up."
"When you play two games a week in two different competitions, then you rest some players and you win then it's a fantastic rotation; but if you lose, then you are asked 'why did you rest these players?' I have some experience with this before and we will change things again for City, because we will have to do it. It is just that way when you are playing top sides. If we get to the final there could be around 70 games, because the team was successful."
Chelsea are four points behind City in the Premier League table and know they must get a result at the Etihad if they have any hope of overhauling them and cementing a place in the final top four. Benitez, though, is wary of the current champions even if they are not the force they were last season.
"We have confidence that we can win, but we also have a lot of respect because City are a great team. They have a great manager and a great atmosphere around the team, but we have to go there with confidence and if we can close the gap then we can fight to be in the top two; if not, then we will fight for the top four."
Benitez also feels that the race for the top four will go "right until the end of the season" and that Everton - who his Chelsea actually face on the final day - will remain right in the hunt.
"What I can see now is a team at Chelsea FC who have confidence. We are confident we can beat City if we do things the right way. We are creating chances in every game. If we do, we'll be closer. But the race for the top four will go until the end of the season. Our last game is against Everton - we'll win and lose games, but it will be very close right to the end. It will be very close.
"We have games against Arsenal and Tottenham, and afterwards we have Everton [still to come] The priority is to win this game. If we do, we'll be closer. If we cannot, still we have to keep fighting because it will be very close."
Benitez, meanwhile, confirmed that virtually all his squad are in good shape for the City game, other than long-term absentee Oriol Romeu.
"We have some knocks, normal things, but nothing serious," he added. "We will see tomorrow how they feel, but two or three little things but nothing that will stop players playing on Sunday. Two or three players [Frank Lampard, Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole].
"Yes, obviously, when we were thinking about playing different players, it was to rest some of them. We have 22 and this is an opportunity to use different players. Apart from Oriol Romeu, I hope the rest of the players will be available."