The Blues travel to the north east tomorrow to take on Newcastle United, with both sides in need of the points at respective ends of the table, and after we allowed a lead to slip at Reading on Wednesday, Rafael Benitez is looking for a positive reaction from his side…
On squad news
With two players away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, two out injured and another one ruled out through suspension, the manager has had to utilise the full depth of his squad in recent weeks.
There was some welcome news ahead of tomorrow’s game, however, with Juan Mata, who picked up a knock in midweek, being passed fit, along with a key player who has missed the last two games.
‘Mata was training today and so was Petr Cech, and both are available for selection,’ said Benitez. ‘David Luiz, though, is still injured, along with Oriol Romeu.’
On facing Newcastle United
Following their fifth-place finish last season, expectations on Tyneside ahead of the current campaign were understandably high.
However, thus far, it hasn’t worked out in the way that manager Alan Pardew would have hoped, although their first away win of the season, which came earlier this week against Aston Villa, makes them a dangerous proposition tomorrow.
‘Last season they had a great campaign, and I was slightly surprised that they haven’t been playing at the same level,’ he said. ‘But you can see they still have good players, and I think they will do well, but hopefully after this game.
‘They did well last Tuesday against Aston Villa, so they will be happy with the performance and the result. After this game, if they can win a few games in a row I’m sure they will be fine.’
In other news
Meanwhile, Benitez was eager to praise two Blues full-backs for achievements on the international stage.
If selected, Ashley Cole is in line to earn his 100th England cap in the friendly against Brazil at Wembley next Wednesday, while Cesar Azpilicueta has been called into the Spain senior squad for the first time.
‘I’m really pleased for Ashley, if he plays it will be his 100th cap, which is a fantastic achievement,’ said the manager.
‘Azpilicueta is now joining up with the Spanish national team, and that was a target we had for him.’
The disappointment of Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Reading is still fresh in the memory of the manager, particularly the manner in which we conceded the equaliser.
Tomorrow’s match, however, is the ideal opportunity to get it out of our system and return to winning ways, and with four players set to return to action within the next few weeks, the manager remains optimistic.
‘The mood was very good today,’ explained the Spaniard. ‘They trained very well. I was watching the Reading game back and I was pleased with the performance of the team. I wasn’t so pleased with the last-minute lack of concentration, but we’d been doing well, had another chance to score a third goal and didn’t do it.
‘The goal we conceded was in the last minute. For 92 minutes we were in control and it was just a long ball and a lack of concentration. We made two or three mistakes in the same situation and it’s something we need to fix. We have to move forward and hopefully next time we can do better.
‘If you analyse the games we haven’t won, we could have won them all. The team is doing quite well considering some players are not here or are injured.
‘We have players coming back. David Luiz, as well as John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses, while [Eden] Hazard will be available after the next game.
‘We will have more players, more options and hopefully in the next couple of months we can maintain our consistency and keep winning games.’
The trip to St James’ Park sees Demba Ba return to the club where he scored 29 goals, including 13 this season, but Benitez has no concerns over the striker’s state of mind amid what could potentially be a testing atmosphere.
‘I think he’s confident he can do well if he plays,’ said the Blues boss. ‘He’s been training well, he’s a professional and he knows that some fans might not be happy, but others will understand the situation, so he’s ready to play.’