It’s yet another midweek game for the Blues tomorrow as we head to the north east to take on Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fifth round, and Rafael Benitez is confident his side can bounce back from Sunday’s defeat at Manchester City and book a place in the quarter-finals…
On squad news
Tomorrow’s game will be our 48th in all competitions thus far this campaign, and with a crucial Premier League game against West Bromwich Albion, followed by next week’s Europa League clash with Steaua Bucharest, the manager hinted he could rotate his squad to keep players fresh.
‘The team have played more games than anybody in Europe, but we have to manage the squad as well as we can,’ said Benitez.
‘[Gary] Cahill has a virus and is ill, he cannot play, and [Cesar] Azpilicueta has some discomfort in his leg and also cannot play.
‘Those two, along with Oriol Romeu, are the only players not available.’
On facing Middlesbrough
The two teams have a relatively strong history in cup competitions, having met in both the 1997 FA Cup final and the League Cup final a year later.
The last time the two sides met, back in 2008, the Blues ran out 5-0 winners at the Riverside Stadium in a Premier League encounter, but while Tony Mowbray’s team may currently be plying their trade in the Championship, Benitez believes they will provide a big test.
‘They were doing really well but recently they have had a few problems,’ he explained. ‘They have a good idea of how to play and they have a good manager.
‘We have watched clips of them, they are a team that will give everything in the FA Cup and it will be a tough game as always.’
In other news
Media reports emerged this morning of a perceived disagreement between the manager and some of his players when we returned to training following Sunday’s defeat at Manchester City.
Benitez, while acknowledging there was a collective discussion, said that everybody involved was simply keen to move on from what was a disappointing performance.
‘It was a normal meeting between players and technical staff which happens after every game,’ he said.
‘You see it all over the world, you share opinions and have a meeting, especially after a defeat. You have to share your disappointment, it’s normal.
‘It was just a team talk after a defeat, that’s it. If we had a meeting on the pitch with the players and technical staff, it’s part of our business. We now have to move on and think about Middlesbrough.
‘I can understand the frustration of Terry, he’s an important player for us, he’s trying to help and he wants to win.
‘He’s been injured for a long time, he’s had a few problems with his knee and missed some training sessions. To play against Brentford he had some special treatment and a specific plan that we prepared for him. We are managing him, we know he’s an important player for us and it’s normal to share opinions.’
Our defeat at the weekend, coupled with Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-2 win at West Ham United last night, saw the White Hart Lane outfit move two points clear of us in the Premier League table.
The manager, however, has confidence in his squad, and believes we possess more than enough quality to finish in the top four while also posing a serious threat in the cup competitions.
‘We are training really well and the atmosphere is good inside,’ Benitez explained. ‘My relationship with the players is fantastic. I have a good group who are working hard and are keen to learn, they were disappointed like me after the defeat.
‘The competition for the top four will go until the end of the season, that was my opinion before and it still is now.
‘It’s really important for us, but a top side has to try and win every competition and every game. We will pick the best players for every game in our consideration because we know how the players train and how they are.’