Rafael Benitez is confident the competition for places among his squad will benefit us as the season enters a crucial stage, starting with tomorrow’s Europa League return leg against Sparta Prague.
The Blues go into the game in a strong position having secured a 1-0 win at the Generali Arena a week ago courtesy of a late strike by Oscar, and having won our last three matches, scoring nine goals in the process, confidence is understandably high.
‘We have a lot of confidence and the good thing is that there’s competition between the players, that’s important, especially if you play twice a week,’ said the Blues boss.
‘We have more competition now, which is a problem, but it’s good for me. It’s good because we have so many games and it’s important to have the whole squad available.
‘I’m quite positive, we’ve scored a lot of goals over the course of the season and we’ve been strong in defence.
‘We have to win tomorrow, progress in the competition and then we have tough games ahead. The tournament is difficult; you can see that by the names left in.
The squad has been bolstered over the last week by the return of Nigerian duo John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses after they helped their nation to Africa Cup of Nations success.
With both David Luiz and John Terry also returning to action following significant lay-offs, Benitez is looking forward to having the opportunity to rotate his players, particularly with an important Premier League game away at Manchester City on Sunday, followed three days later by a trip to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup.
The availability of Mikel, in particular, is a huge boost, and Benitez explained the defensive midfielders’s return will enable him to give Frank Lampard a much-needed rest against Sparta.
‘It’s important to be fit and train properly, and Frank will not be in the squad tomorrow as we have to manage the group and think about all the other games,’ he said.
‘Obviously Demba Ba is unavailable, but Branislav Ivanovic will also not be involved.
‘To play every game because we didn’t have the options is a problem, but at least now we will have fresh legs almost for every game.
‘We’ve played so many games, 25 in three months. We can’t train how we would like to, and then you have to carry on and play the next game.
‘Still we are improving a lot of things but you have to keep on winning games. As soon as you lose or draw everything changes, but the team is working very hard, the staff are working very hard and I think we are going in the right direction.’
Lampard has been in a rich vein of form of late, with his goal against Brentford on Sunday, his 199th for the club, taking him to within three of Bobby Tambling’s club record.
‘If Frank can score a lot of goals it will be fantastic for him and us,’ said Benitez. ‘Everybody knows he’s close, I’m sure the players will want to help if they have a chance. The main thing is he’s doing well and scoring goals.
‘It’s impressive for anyone but especially a midfielder. He’s a player who likes to go forward and his accuracy is really good.’
On the nine previous occasions in which we’ve won a first leg away from home in Europe, we’ve always gone on to progress.
Manchester United were the last team to win at Stamford Bridge in European competition, in the knockout stages of the Champions League back in 2011.
Benitez, however, saw enough of Sparta last week to suggest there is plenty of life left in this tie.
‘I wasn’t just analysing certain players, the team had a good idea about what they wanted to do, which means the manager was doing a good job,’ he explained.
‘The shape of the team, the movement, the patterns were all very good. We’ve spoken about that and we know it won’t be an easy game.’