With the games continuing to come thick and fast, plus two players away in Africa and two regular recent starters unavailable due to injury, Rafael Benitez has spoken about the need to carefully manage his squad.
Chelsea visit Reading on Wednesday evening, continuing a run in which we have had a game every weekend and every midweek since mid-November. Speaking to the media ahead of this latest match, the manager was asked to comment on suggestions that tiredness could be affecting team performance.
‘We are playing one game every three days and maybe more games than anyone,’ said Benitez. ‘We have some players in the Africa Cup of Nations, we went to Japan and some people will say it is excuses, it is not excuses, it is a problem we have to manage.
‘Some people will say that Chelsea have a lot of players but I will clarify that in some positions we have two or three players at the moment.
‘Oriol Romeu is injured for the rest of the season and we have John Mikel Obi away so we have to manage with Ramires and Lampard in the centre at the moment.
‘That is the reason why some players in some positions after two or three games in a row have some problems. Recovering players when we have three days between each game is quite easy, and if you have one week like a lot of teams, it is even easier.
‘When you have just two days and you have to travel, the time is not enough. Then some players can be tired.
‘That is the reason why the team was doing so well against Arsenal in the first half, and then after we were suffering a little bit because they cannot keep the high tempo all the time. So we have to manage it. After the Africa Cup of Nations we have players coming back, and we will have Eden Hazard coming back from suspension, so we will have more options and we can manage in a better way.
‘The squad is good but in some positions, because of the problems we have at the moment, we are a little bit short. With players coming back it will be easier for me to rest some players. If the players come back and we don’t have injuries then I am sure we can do well. We will be stronger and we will carry on winning games and fighting for being in the top four.’
Benitez reported Petr Cech (calf) and David Luiz (ankle) will miss the Reading game, as they did the FA Cup match at Brentford. He is hopeful Cech might return for the weekend visit to Newcastle.
‘We were testing Cech today, he was training, but it was a light session and we decided not to take a risk. David Luiz is working hard and we will see in four or five days how he feels.’
Ross Turnbull will continue in goal for the Reading game having made his fifth start of the season at Brentford.
‘When you are not playing too many games it is always more difficult so it is a question of him settling down,’ said Benitez. ‘He is training well and it is fine.’
‘The pitch at Brentford was quite heavy for a player like John Terry who was coming back from injury and he was doing a great job too.’
The manager also expressed how pleased he is with players he asks to play in less familiar positions or in many games.
‘Ryan Bertrand played the other day as a winger and he is not a winger,’ he added, ‘but he was doing a great effort for the team. There are players playing every game like Ramires and Lampard, and I am really pleased with them. Ashley Cole has to play all the time and he is doing a great job.’
The manager was also asked to respond to quotes in the media from Brentford player Clayton Donaldson saying he noticed Chelsea players showing frustration during Sunday’s game.
‘I can hear in any game around the world for all my life, 20 players complaining about each other, saying you have to do this, you have to put the ball there. I am really surprised this is a story,’ he answered.
Looking forward to the return to league action at Reading and our third in a run of four away games, Benitez is preparing for a tough game.
‘Reading are battling to avoid relegation and it will be difficult. We know they have a team that plays with intensity but we have to be ready and we have been training carefully and preparing everything. We have a good team and hopefully we can do well.’