Rafael Benitez anticipates Chelsea will be wise to the challenge West Ham may pose today at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues return to league action for the first time in a fortnight.
Upton Park back in early December was the venue for the first away game after the Spaniard took charge of the side, and we suffered a 3-1 defeat having led at the interval. The squad has grown more familiar with each other since and the newer members are more experienced in Premier League football.
Benitez also hopes an improved sharpness in front of goal seen in the last couple of outings will help better the last result against Sam Allardyce’s side, who played strongly after the interval in that game in east London.
‘I think it will be a similar test to the last time, but I want to think about the positives and in the first half we were playing really well, we had chances and we could have scored two or three goals,’ says Benitez.
‘It was one of those games when you say you didn’t win but still we did so well that we could have won in the first half.
‘The second half was a good experience for the future, so we know West Ham are physical, they play direct football sometimes and try to win the second balls. We have to be ready and prepare the team properly. With two days [between games] it is not easy but mental preparation may be the main thing.
‘If you approach the game with confidence, belief and desire it is easier.
‘Now we have more experience and everyone knows each other a bit better. It will be tough anyway but we can do different things and maybe make the difference.’
Benitez describes the 3-1 win over Steaua Bucharest on Thursday, coming as it did off the back of a morale-boosting recovery and 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, as a message for the remainder of the season of what can be achieved.
‘We have been on the brink of scoring more goals in some games and we didn’t do it, but still the team was doing well,’ he points out.
‘On Thursday against a good team we saw good balance, a good attacking threat and we scored three goals, and we had more chances so that is a positive.
‘We did well against Man United so hopefully we can do well against West Ham.
‘We have to concentrate on the Premier League now but we have to try to keep the momentum because we are really pleased with the way that we are playing and the reaction of the players.’
Juan Mata scored the Chelsea goal in the away game against West Ham and is the team’s top appearance maker and topscorer this season.
‘We have to be careful if players are playing too many games and if they seem tired, so we check with them and we talk with them,’ reports Benitez.
‘The main thing is if you see Juan Mata on the pitch and he is doing well he can carry on, but if we can protect him we will try to protect him. At the moment he is fine.’