Chelsea’s crowded schedule last month will only abate a little in January, so Rafael Benitez has indicated he will continue moderate rotation in his team selection from game to game.
With the two legs of the Capital One Cup semi-final against Swansea approaching fast and a midweek league match at Reading at the end of the month, two games a week continues to be the norm, starting with tonight’s visit by Queens Park Rangers.
‘We changed two players for the Everton game to bring in fresh legs and when you play a lot of games in a short period it is really important to have players with fresh legs and energy, so I tried to manage this in the past games,’ explained Benitez ahead of today’s match.
‘It was a difficult decision because against Norwich on Boxing Day we played a good game and to change players who were doing well is not easy, because everybody when they have a good game thinks I want to continue.
‘You try to explain that we want to keep everyone ready, and now maybe we want to do the same again and hopefully they will understand and we keep the level of the team.’
Petr Cech’s injury that curtailed his 400th appearance on Sunday has been diagnosed as a groin muscle injury, and Benitez’s options to rotate his outfield players might be limited a little by the knee problem that kept John Mikel Obi out of the Everton game. The midfielder has not yet been ruled out of QPR game however, and even if he cannot recover in time, Benitez does not anticipate Mikel missing the imminent Africa Cup of Nations.
The departure of Mikel and Victor Moses for that tournament, plus long-term injury to Oriol Romeu, are being taken into consideration when transfer window activity is discussed, and ideally the interim manager would like to include Fernando Torres in his rotation in the second half of the season. The striker is our most-used outfield player this season.
‘We are trying to manage the team so as soon as I can change Fernando, I have to do it obviously,’ confirmed Benitez, ‘but I couldn’t at Everton because you have to score and he is the centre-forward – but we will try to manage him and do things properly.
‘He wants the team winning games so he will understand that is the way and he will accept this.
‘All of the players want to play every game but I think they can understand now that if we want to achieve something important then we have to use the squad. They know that is the way.’
Benitez spoke straight after the Everton win about how impressed he has been with the players’ attitude and willingness to take new ideas on board in training. He can also see good results having a positive effect.
‘I think the team has more confidence that we can do something because we are playing so well and they are thinking okay, we can play nice football but also in a tough game against Norwich we saw the character and the professional performance of the team.
‘They were really compact and doing the right things all the time, and after on TV we could show the players some clips of how we are improving. Against Everton we had a lot of situations we could analyse and maybe improve but also a lot of positives as we showed character against a team that is in-form at the moment.
‘The team had the belief before but if you win you have more confidence. The first games when I was here were quite difficult because we had Manchester City and then Fulham and we didn’t have much time, but afterwards we could see that they can enjoy the movement and positions that we are trying to do, and they are playing better football. So I think we are in a situation now where we can move forward and the confidence will grow.’