Rafael Benitez believes it’s imperative his side take one game at a time if we are to return to London with the FIFA Club World Cup trophy.
Speaking ahead of our semi-final against Monterrey at the Yokohoma International Stadium tomorrow, the Spaniard, having overseen two successive victories prior to the trip, feels the confidence is gradually returning to a group of players who were in the middle of a dreadful run of form when he took charge.
‘We’ve tried to change little things, things we could improve,’ explained Benitez. ‘Tactically we’ve tried to be more compact and press high.
‘When you change manager, players want to prove that they should be picked for every game and that’s been the situation.
‘In the last two games we’ve played much better, created more chances and that’s good for the confidence of the players.’
Our opponents tomorrow are appearing at the tournament for the second year in a row, having been eliminated at the quarter-final stage last year.
Of course, Victor Vucetich’s side will not want to risk a repeat of their performance in last season’s competition, and Benitez acknowledged their undoubted qualities.
‘We know the team, we have staff collecting videos and watching them, I’ve watched them as well so we have a lot of information,’ explained the Blues boss.
‘They’re a good team who can play the passing game and move the ball easily, but at the same time they can play more direct.
‘It will be an interesting test for us, we need to manage the tempo of the game and see if they can match us physically. They can change tactics as well during the game, change shape and play different formations, so the coach is doing a good job.
With a nine-hour time difference to the UK, the fitness and mindset of the players, particularly after a 12-hour flight, will come into Benitez’s thoughts when the time comes to name his team.
Frank Lampard’s return at the weekend was a big positive, and while the absence of captain John Terry remains a blow, with regards to personnel, the manager is feeling fairly relaxed.
‘We have some talented players in the middle, we try and balance the team and put some creativity in there but at the same time we need to defend,’ said Benitez.
‘My experience of this competition is to see how the players are the day before the game in training. After this, you must consider that some players will be fresher than others. After watching Monterrey and analysing my players we will decide.’
Benitez has fond memories of the Club World Cup, having led Inter to victory back in 2010 after his campaign had begun with a comfortable 3-0 win over Seongnam Ilhwa.
Of course, he would be more than happy to settle for a similar outcome tomorrow, and there is no doubt he is taking the competition extremely seriously.
‘I intend to win, so I will try to use the best team possible to win the first game,’ he explained. ‘After that we will think about the next game. My experience is that you can’t leave things for the final because you must win the semi-final.
‘The main thing is to play a good game with high tempo, good passing and creating chances.’