Rafael Benitez will be hopeful of inspiring his Chelsea side to a hugely important three points against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light tomorrow afternoon, before we jet off to Japan for the FIFA World Club Cup, and after overseeing his first win in midweek, he is in confident mood.
On squad news
Having been bereft of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge in recent weeks, Benitez is delighted to be able to call upon the services of one of the trio for tomorrow’s game at Sunderland, and he hopes the other two will be back sooner rather than later.
‘Daniel Sturridge has been training but it’s too early for him, so he will not travel to Sunderland,’ said the Spaniard. ‘We will see if he can fly with us to Japan at a later date.
‘John Terry will not fly because the doctor has warned of an inflammation and said that flying is not the best idea, so he will stay here and obviously miss the Sunderland game as well.
‘Frank Lampard has been training today, he’s in the squad for Sunderland and if everything is fine he will come to Japan. At least we have one important player back because we need character and experience.’
On facing Sunderland
Tomorrow’s game is a must-win given our recent league form, particularly if we are to stand any chance of applying pressure on the two Manchester clubs, who face each other on Sunday.
Our last victory in the league came against Tottenham Hotspur back in October, and Benitez is well aware of the need to put that right.
‘We have to beat Sunderland, and if we can we’ll be closer to at least one of the leaders,’ he explained. ‘My job is to concentrate on my team and if we can be closer sooner rather than later that would be good. We have a chance as long as we start winning games.
‘The last game was very good, you can talk about the level of the other team but it was the Champions League and the level and intensity was fantastic. I watched it again and I was very pleased with the performance. Even at 75 minutes and 85 minutes we were still pushing.’
On John Mikel Obi’s ban
Having been charged by the FA following an altercation with Mark Clattenburg, John Mikel Obi now faces a three-match ban, which will see him miss tomorrow’s game, as well as the matches against Leeds United and Aston Villa.
Benitez, though, while disappointed to lose the Nigerian, is now eager to put the whole episode behind us.
‘We were expecting something similar, he has accepted the charge and now we need to move forward,’ said the Blues boss.
‘He’s been training, so it’s a bit of a problem for us, but we were more or less aware that this could happen.’
On the return of Lampard
Lampard hasn’t featured since limping off early in the 2-1 defeat away against Shakhtar Donetsk.
There is little doubt that a relatively young side have been lacking in leadership of late, and the midfielder’s return couldn’t have come at a better time.
‘We have a good team and a good squad, but we need the players with more experience,’ said Benitez.
‘If you have to play him because something’s wrong, he can make a difference. If you play him when everything is fine, he can also have an impact, so all of these players with quality and experience are welcome.
‘He is a quality player; he scores goals, understands the game and is a good passer of the ball.’
On the absence of Terry
Terry has been out of action since being stretchered off in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool a month ago, and the captain will continue his rehabilitation at Cobham while the rest of the squad fly out to Japan for the FIFA World Club Cup.
‘The first conversation I had with him he was quite excited because it’s a new competition and a great opportunity,’ said Benitez.
‘But after we spoke with the doctor it was decided that he would stay here. He wanted to go, he wanted to help, but it’s better that he stays here.
‘He’s training very hard with the physios, but the knee is a special case, we have to see what happens.’