Rafael Benitez has been addressing the subject of attacking options ahead of tonight’s game against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
After going 2-0 down in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, the Spaniard made a tactical switch which saw Fernando Torres replace John Mikel Obi to play alongside Demba Ba in attack.
The move was almost instantly rewarded when Ba fired us back into the game, and while we were unable to claw back a second goal, playing the two strikers together remains an option in the final weeks of the season.
‘We have strikers who are both doing well but at the same time we have a line of three players behind them who are quite offensive, score goals and have an impact on the game,’ said Benitez.
‘If you change your shape you have to change these players and they can be very influential. Players like [Juan] Mata, who are very good playing in the middle, have to go into wide areas. Can you guarantee he will be better? I’m not sure.
‘The other day we had to do it because we were losing, but we still had those influential players on the pitch, the majority of them through the middle. That’s sometimes a problem, but when you have players like Mata and [Eden] Hazard getting assists and scoring goals, maybe you don’t need another striker.
‘It’s an option but it depends on the other team and the team you have. Hazard, Oscar, Mata, these players can play in the middle and they can all score goals. Mata is scoring goals and getting assists, if you have someone who has 18 goals and 29 assists it’s like another striker.’
Benitez went on to explain that, as far as he’s concerned, strikers shouldn’t be judged solely on the amount of goals they score.
He also backed the duo to add to their league tally over the course of this week.
‘Sometimes it’s what they give the team, it’s not just about scoring goals,’ said the Blues boss.
‘If you have Mata scoring 30 goals this year and the strikers can give assists, we will be really pleased, so it’s more about the contribution they can make to the team, not just the goals, and I’m quite happy with the way things are going because both strikers are doing well.
‘They will have an opportunity this week because we play two league games. If you play in the Europa League you cannot score in the league, if you play in the FA Cup you cannot score in the league.’
Our exit from the FA Cup, while disappointing, now allows us to focus simply on qualifying for next season’s Champions League and also winning the Europa League.
With Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton all still vying for a top-four finish, the race looks set to go to the wire, and with matches against two of those three still to play, as well as the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, Benitez urged his players to be mentally strong.
‘When you talk about a winning mentality you talk about the head, it’s not just about being strong physically or if you have enough quality to make a difference,’ said Benitez.
‘At the end of the season it’s more important to be strong mentally and approach each game with the belief you can win.
‘If we’d got to the FA Cup final and progressed to the final of the Europa League, we were looking at the fixtures and it was very difficult. I said it will go until the end of the season, hopefully I’m wrong and we will qualify before but I think it will go until the end of the season.’
Frank Lampard was an unused substitute at Wembley on Sunday, and the midfielder, who scored in last season’s corresponding fixture, will hope to play some part tonight.
The 34-year-old scored his 200th goal for the Blues in last month’s win over West Ham United, taking him to within two of Bobby Tambling’s club record.
Benitez will be looking to utilise the full depth of his squad in the coming weeks, but won’t allow sentiment to dictate his selection policy.
‘I have to consider all the squad, the main thing is the team,’ he said. ‘Obviously I would like to see Frank break the record, but if I pick him it’s because he’s a good player.
‘I think he can score goals and hopefully he can score more than two and break the record. Then he will be happy, we will be happy and hopefully it means we can win more games.’