Branislav Ivanovic insists there is no time to relax as the Blues face five games between now and 19 May which will definE our season.
Having booked a place in the Europa League final courtesy of a 5-2 aggregate win over Basel, attention for Rafael Benitez’s side now turns towards securing qualification for next season’s Champions League.
Trips to Manchester United and Aston Villa, with the small matter of a home clash against Tottenham Hotspur sandwiched in between, precede the game against Benfica in Amsterdam, with the Serbian defender stressing the importance of staying focused.
‘Our performances are getting better with every game, we now have three difficult matches coming up before the final,’ he said.
‘All season we have been under pressure, we can’t relax for one game. We have to prepare for the next match, which is Manchester United away.
‘It’s always difficult, they are champions and they are playing at home, but we need the points for the Champions League. After that we play Tottenham, which is huge for us and we have to be ready.
‘We have to get points from the next two games to secure it [Champions League qualification], and then it will be much easier to prepare for the final.’
At the culmination of the campaign we will have played 69 competitive fixtures, a truly staggering number of games, and far more than the majority of our rivals will have been involved in.
Ivanovic acknowledged the intensity of the campaign, but certainly won’t be looking for excuses over the coming weeks if our objectives aren’t fulfilled.
‘This kind of season feels like three rolled into one,’ he explained. ‘It’s been really difficult but we knew that before the season started, although I can’t really remember it because when you look back it seems so far away.
‘It’s nice when you have a lot of games, sometimes you are tired but we have a big enough squad. At this stage you don’t get tired because when you know you have a huge game coming up you have to forget everything and give even more.’
For Ivanovic, the opportunity to play in the Europa League final has taken on extra significance after he – along with John Terry, Ramires and Raul Meireles – was forced to sit out last season’s Champions League final through suspension.
He recalls that unforgettable night in Munich with mixed feelings, but is keen not to dwell too much on past glories.
‘The final is a great opportunity for us, it’s been a long and difficult season but to finish it with the chance to win a trophy is great motivation for us,’ said the Blues defender.
‘It’s not the Champions League but when you are in any final it’s the same, you have to be prepared for the game.
‘It was very hard, I couldn’t control my emotions during that game. It’s much harder to watch the game when your whole career depends on it and you are not on the pitch, so I hope to have a chance to play in this final.
‘I think I was the third player to reach him [Didier Drogba], they are great memories for us but we have to quickly forget about Munich. In Amsterdam it’s going to be a completely different game.
‘We’ve changed the team a bit from last year but we’ve learnt a lot. We have experience from losing games and I hope all these things will help us in Amsterdam.’