We survived a small scare against Steaua Bucharest on Thursday to progress to the last eight of the continent’s second-tier competition, again showing their fighting spirit after Sunday’s FA Cup comeback against Manchester United.
We won the FA Cup last season and finished sixth in the top flight. We qualified for the Champions League at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur by winning the trophy.
We currently sit fourth in the Premier League, two points behind Spurs but with a game in hand while Arsenal are five points back. Chelsea play West Ham United on Sunday.
When asked about the busy schedule every month, Benitez had this to say :
“Since I came here we have been playing around nine games each month and we knew that could be difficult and we know that can still be difficult,” Benitez told the club’s website (www.chelseafc.com).
“I prefer to have this problem because it means we are carrying on competing. A top side always wants to be in all the competitions until the end,” added the Spaniard, who will leave at the end of the season.
Chelsea’s progress in the Europa League alongside Tottenham and Newcastle United is in stark contrast to last season when Manchester United and Manchester City exited before the quarters.
The draw for the last eight was being made later on Friday and midfielder Eden Hazard was upbeat about Chelsea’s prospects. We drew Rubin Kazan after Hazard’s interview :
“Chelsea are a big club — we have to win titles and to qualify for the Champions League,” the Belgian told UEFA’s website (www.uefa.com). “There’s a lot to do but we’ll try to do it all.”
Ramires said the Chelsea players were fully behind Benitez despite the discontent of the supporters, a section of whom have routinely jeered the former Liverpool manager :
“There isn’t anyone better than him to tell us what is best. The players try not to get involved in this issue. As long as he’s here the players will seek to support him because he’s our manager and we want to win,” said the Brazilian.
Benitez admits Chelsea’s packed schedule is making team selection a tricky task. But with our Europa League progression comes more game time, and when stacked on top of the FA Cup replay clash with Manchester United on April 1, Benitez admits that an increasingly bloated schedule is providing him with a few headaches.
“I can do nothing about that so I must concentrate on my job and try to do my best preparing the team for every competition,” he told reporters.
“It is difficult. Some players like center backs and goalkeepers can play more games. Wingers, full backs, strikers, it is more difficult because of the intensity of their runs.
“It depends on the players. If you have a player who is fit and recovers quickly it is easier than someone who is older and needs more time. You have to analyze everything and decide what to do.”
Our packed schedule is no joke, we’ll be playing 4 games in about a week according to the most recent scheduling. This is a huge concern, we don’t have the squad depth to be able to do this. If we have to rest Mata and Hazard, can Oscar and Marin/Moses truly replace what they bring to the side? Not for me. If we have to rest John Obi Mikel, can Lampard-Ramires do well in the pivot? Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is that if we have any hopes of playing European football next season (CL, that is) and winning a trophy (whether FA Cup or Europa League), we’ll have to figure out a new way of squad rotation that will work. For me, the best example for this season would be the rotation used to Villa (H), Norwich (A), Everton (A). In which we took all 9 points, whether we can do that next month, I’m not sure. A top 4 finish is a must.But the fatigue factor will hurt us one way or another if we don’t use some sense.