On the eve of a battle between the teams sitting in second and third in the Barclays Premier League table, Rafael Benitez says he expects the fight to finish in the top four to go right to the wire.
The Spaniard takes his side to the Etihad Arena tomorrow lunchtime to take on Manchester City, who are currently four points ahead of us, knowing a win would increase the pressure on Roberto Mancini’s side, but regardless of the result, he believes there is still plenty of time for things to change between now and the end of the season.
‘We have had a lot of games,’ said the Blues boss. ‘If you win the Champions League and FA Cup you have to play the Super Cup and the Community Shield, and then we had Japan, so it was quite difficult.
‘We had a few injuries as well so it was even more difficult, but now we have 22 players and we can manager in a better way, compete in different competitions and keep a good team on the pitch. I am quite positive that the team can do well.
‘You always want to finish as high as possible, that’s the challenge. We will finish second if we can, the next game is a massive one and then we’ll see where we are, but I still think at the end of the season we’ll all be fighting each other.’
Benitez was also eager to praise the mentality and work-rate of his players since he took charge, and he believes the late goal against Sparta Prague on Thursday was just reward for their positive attitude in matches.
‘I know how things are working here, we have a good atmosphere,’ he explained. ‘I know what the players think about football because we talk about it every day. My job is to convince them we are doing the right things and I think they are convinced.
‘The only way as a manager is to give players something to think about, if they think it’s right they will follow you. I can see the commitment is there, the positive thing against Sparta was that we scored a late goal because we kept on pushing.’
With Benitez reporting that he hopes to have every member of his squad, aside from Oriol Romeu, fit and available, he has the luxury of being able to rotate players in order to cope with the demands of playing twice a week.
One area, in particular, where the manager now has selection problems for all the right reasons is in the centre of defence.
John Terry completed the full 90 minutes in our last two matches, but the manager, as he explained, doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks with the skipper.
‘If you ask me whether he can play [against Manchester City], I would say yes. If you ask me whether he has to play, I need to analyse our other options,’ said Benitez.
‘At the moment we have four centre-backs, which is really good for me because before we only had two. It’s easier for me now; we have another training session before the game so we will see how they all are.
‘John’s an important player for us; he’s a great character and a leader but we have quality in this position.
‘[Gary] Cahill and [Branislav] Ivanovic have been doing really well, and we have David Luiz as another option, so we need to choose the right option for each game, especially when we play two a week.’