The Blues will be bidding to put an end to a run of two successive home defeats when Southampton arrive at Stamford Bridge tonight, and Rafael Benitez has called on his team to be more ruthless in front of goal in order to avoid another frustrating evening.
We were made to pay for our profligacy against Queens Park Rangers and Swansea City after being largely dominant in both matches, and the manager is hoping there will be no repeat against Nigel Adkins’ side as we look to capitalise on our game in hand and close the gap on the two Manchester clubs.
‘The main thing has been the attitude of other teams,’ said the Blues boss. ‘In the last two games they were very deep; we created some chances but we didn’t have much space.
‘We didn’t have counter-attacks or one against one situations that you would normally have when you play away.
‘Teams are playing with too many players behind the ball. It’s something that happens when you are a top team playing at home, so we need to address it and be more clinical when we get chances.
‘You can’t run behind defenders when they are deep because you will end up in the stand. When the opposition attack, there are spaces to run in behind defenders because they drop off and then you have space between the lines.
‘Against Swansea we had a lot of clear chances which we didn’t take and that allowed them to remain deep for the rest of the game.’
For a team who have grown accustomed to not losing many games at Stamford Bridge in recent years, those two results were obviously a major disappointment.
Benitez, however, remains upbeat, particularly in the wake of Saturday’s 4-0 win at Stoke City – our sixth successive victory on the road – and believes the team are moving in the right direction, although he acknowledged it will take time.
‘We have a lot of positivity around,’ he said. ‘You can see the statistics and the numbers. The team are creating chances, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, so there are a lot of positive signals around.
‘My job is to focus on these positive things because that’s the way to move forward. When I came here there was a lot of talk about the team conceding goals in every single game, and we have conceded half of the goals we were and also scored more across all competitions, so I prefer to focus on the positive than the negative.’
Since Benitez took charge, the two games which we have won at home were against Aston Villa and Nordsjaelland, 8-0 and 6-0 respectively.
In both of those fixtures we scored early, allowing us to subsequently profit as our opponents were forced to come out from the back, and Benitez would happily take a similar scenario this evening.
‘You always try to do that, but it depends on the opposition and whether they can control you or keep the ball,’ said the Spaniard.
‘We try to play with a high tempo; it would be easier for me if we scored goals in the first half and then managed the second half.
‘At the beginning we had around 11 players playing in every game, and now we have 15 or 16 playing more minutes, so if we have a good score in the first half I can manage the second half much better.’
Whether or not John Terry plays any part against Southampton remains to be seen, but Benitez was delighted to see the captain make his return as a late substitute against Stoke.
However, with Terry not having been involved since the 1-1 draw at home against Liverpool back in November, the manager has no plans to rush him back into the starting line-up, preferring to focus on the bigger picture.
‘As a manager you need to know how your players are at the moment and what it means to play one or another,’ he explained.
‘You have to consider all options, but in the case of John, he’s still not fully fit. He knows that, we know that, and the best way to help the team is to play him when he is ready.
‘The match fitness takes some time, especially when you have been eight weeks without playing or training.’