The Blues welcome West Bromwich Albion to Stamford Bridge tomorrow, looking to record back-to-back home league wins, and Rafael Benitez believes his side are approaching the game in good shape…
On squad news
The manager made eight changes against Middlesbrough on Wednesday, including handing a full debut to youngster Nathan Ake and first starts of the season to both Paulo Ferreira and Yossi Benayoun.
The Israeli, however, is not expected to feature tomorrow after picking up a knock, as Benitez explained.
‘I have two or three things to consider,’ he said. ‘The difficult thing for me is that I have to leave three players out because the medical staff are doing a great job. I have to pick 18 and it’s difficult because the team are training so well.
‘Benayoun has an ankle problem, but apart from that only Oriol Romeu is not available.’
On facing West Bromwich Albion
Having secured our place in the FA Cup quarter-finals in midweek, Benitez will be hopeful of securing back-to-back wins and applying the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur, who face Arsenal on Sunday.
The manager is confident we can overcome Steve Clarke’s side, and believes we could profit from the two north London sides playing each other.
‘I have confidence we can win, the team was training really well, as they have since I’ve been here, so I’m really pleased with the reaction in terms of training sessions,’ said the Blues boss.
‘I was really pleased with the performance against Middlesbrough after changing eight players, that means I know what to do.
‘I’m positive we can carry on and finish in the top three or top two, we will see, but that’s my feeling.
‘Realistically it’s not easy, Manchester City are a good team with good players. If they keep winning games it will be difficult, but you never know in football. Top two, top three and two trophies, it’s very clear we have good chances.
‘It (the north London derby) could change things in terms of the perception, but it will go until the end. If you win you are far away but if you lose and the other team win it changes. We have to carry on until the end with confidence because we have a strong team.
‘We will try to do our best in every competition. West Brom are first, then we will try to progress in the Europa league and FA Cup.’
In other news
Meanwhile, Benitez is eager to clear up comments he made in the wake of the win at the Riverside Stadium, insisting his sole aim was to ensure everybody is pulling in the same direction between now and the end of the season.
‘If you analyse carefully what I said, what I was trying to explain was that we have 11 games left to play, that means 33 points, so if we stick together behind the team it will be easier for us to get points,’ explained the Spaniard.
‘If you remember some games, I think the fans are really important for the team. Against Napoli [last season] or Arsenal this year, there’s a big difference when you have everybody behind the team pushing and pushing.
‘What I can see is that when we played Arsenal everything was fine. The players were playing good football with passion and intensity.
‘What I’m trying to say is that if we all stay behind the team together, the atmosphere will be much better, the players will perform much better and we can win more points. Everybody will be happier at the end of the season.
‘The fans can express their feelings, that’s normal, I don’t have a problem with that, but if we stick together it will be fantastic for the players and everyone. If we win we will have three more points and then I will be asked if we can finish in the top two.’
Benitez went on to say that there have been plenty of memorable performances under his stewardship, and sees no reason why the season shouldn’t end on a positive note.
‘People say we are not playing well but it’s not true,’ he said. ‘If you remember against Stoke City, Aston Villa, Nordsjaelland, Sunderland, Everton, Norwich City and in Japan.
‘When I decided to come here, it was because I have ambition and passion for the game. We still have two trophies to play for and we will try our best to win them.’