January 27, 2013
Benitez demands Champions League qualification
Rafael Benitez insisted finishing in the Barclays Premier League top four was more important for Chelsea - and his own future - than trophies this season as he attempts to avoid crashing out of yet another competition on Sunday.
Benitez arrived at Stamford Bridge in November determined to land some silverware during his spell as interim manager.
But he has instead watched one piece after another slip from his grasp in the midst of a campaign in which Chelsea have competed on an unprecedented number of fronts.
Two trophies could vanish in the space of five days if they follow up Wednesday's Capital One Cup exit with an FA Cup fourth-round shock defeat at Brentford.
But despite no Chelsea manager having survived the axe at the end of a barren season since Roman Abramovich bought the club, Benitez left little doubt what the Russian expected of him.
He said: "My idea is very clear. We have to be in the top four in terms of doing well and try to progress in the other competitions.
"But not just to get the job. It's just what we have to do.''
He added: "We want to win every game, we want to win every trophy available.
"The FA Cup is our next target, we will try to do it.
"The priority is very clear. Finish in the top four and try to progress and try to go, as much as we can, to the final or to the semi-final.
"The most important thing, to be in the Champions League next year.''
An FA Cup exit against npower League One opponents would certainly not be considered progress in a competition Chelsea have won an amazing four times in six years, including last season.
Benitez said: "As a top side, you have to win. And you play against a team in another division, so you have to win.''
Benitez knows all about cup shocks from his time at Liverpool, who suffered ignominious exits at the hands of Burnley, Barnsley and Reading during his six years in charge.
Almost invariably, they would occur when the Spaniard rested several key players, something he was also considering doing tomorrow after admitting on Friday that some of Chelsea's slimline squad were running on empty.
Defending the rotation policy which will likely see recalls for Paulo Ferreira and Ryan Bertrand in addition to John Terry, Benitez said: "You can make one mistake in one game.
"It does not mean that the approach is not good enough.''
The last time Benitez made sweeping changes, Chelsea crashed to defeat in a west London derby, with QPR winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Benitez believes the Brentford game would be "totally different'' on a pitch that was "not the best''.
He added: "But it's a game that you will play against a team that is close and it will be a massive, massive motivation for them too.''
Like Chelsea, Brentford lie third in their own division.
Benitez said: "I have seen some games and I was talking with the scout.
"They can play in different ways. They can switch.
"They can play long, they can try to win second balls.
"So, quite an interesting team and they are doing well.''
Eden Hazard will miss the fourth-round tie as he starts a minimum three-match ban following the Swansea ball boy incident.
Brentford manager Uwe Rosler expects star-studded European champions Chelsea to underestimate his side.
The most recent competitive meeting between the Bees and the Blues was 63 years ago, when Chelsea claimed a 1-0 FA Cup third-round in front of 38,000 fans.
Griffin Park could hold its largest crowd in 30 years if it is full to its 12,000 capacity tomorrow, with few anticipating an upset as Chelsea seek to defend the FA Cup in a season where opportunities for silverware are dwindling.
"They will take the game seriously,'' Rosler told Press Association Sport.
"They can only win the FA Cup and the Europa League and a club like Chelsea has to win trophies each year.
"Chelsea will still have an extremely strong team. I still think their players will underestimate us. It's a human reaction.
"I was as a player the same and I think that is our chance.
"We have to believe in our chance and we have to go for it.''
Rosler is confident his side have players who can trouble Benitez's Chelsea.
"We have players who can cause any opposition problems, especially when it's a one-off game,'' Rosler added.
"We have pace, we have technically good players and we are a fit team. We can work very hard against the ball, pressurising and hopefully we can show that on Sunday.''
Jake Bidwell will miss out for Brentford through suspension. The 19-year-old defender, on loan from Everton, was left devastated after being sent off for two yellow cards during the Bees' 2-2 draw with Leyton Orient on Tuesday night.
Bidwell's absence means a chance for former Millwall utility man Scott Barron to deputise at left-back.