Ahead of Chelsea’s 50th game of the 2012/13 season, Rafael Benitez has discussed the importance of keeping focused when competing on three fronts.
The Blues boss was keen to point out that the prospect of an FA Cup sixth round tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday will not distract the side from tomorrow’s Europa League round of 16 first leg against Romanian side Steaua Bucharest.
‘I think it’s clear that we will try to progress in every competition, and that the next game is always the most important game,‘ said Benitez, at his press conference in the bowels of the impressive 55,200-seater National Arena, which hosted last season’s Europa League Final. ‘Now, we are here to play in the Europa League and we will try to win, then on Sunday we will be at Old Trafford.
‘Obviously, as a manager you have to think about both, but the priority at the moment is this one. So we will put a very competitive team on the pitch and we are sure that we can do a good job. Afterwards, we will think about United, but the main thing for us is to progress in this competition at the moment.
‘This is another trophy that we have to compete for and these players are good professionals, who want to win.’
Asked about the sheer number of games played by his side this season, Benitez answered that the strength in depth within this Chelsea squad makes it possible to manage the busiest of fixture schedules, saying that he and his staff manage the situation game-by-game.
‘We see the games and watch our players and we decide which ones will play each game,’ he said.
‘That’s why we have a good group of players, and we have to manage that group.
‘We have played a lot of games and we still want to play a lot more games before the end of the season – this is the way for a top side that play in so many competitions. You have to manage the squad and, if we do that properly, I don’t think fatigue will be a problem.’
Tomorrow’s opponents Steaua, who currently sit top of the Romanian First League, overturned a 2-0 first leg defeat to progress from the previous round, with Dutch giants Ajax falling victim in Bucharest.
Completing their comeback with a penalty shoot-out victory, Steaua were the only side to progress to the last 16 after losing the first leg, a feat that may have been aided by their return to action two weeks ago following an 11-week winter break in the Romanian domestic season.
Benitez is aware of the potential threat the Romanian side may pose, however, explaining that he has watched them closely in preparation for tomorrow night’s encounter.
‘From what we have seen, they are a team that is capable of pressing high if it’s necessary, like they did against Ajax, or waiting and playing on the counter-attack,’ he said. ‘They have some pace in wide areas, while their No 24 is a player with talent between the lines.
‘So we know they can play from the back, that they have good balance and that they can play high or counter-attack. We will see what they decide to do tomorrow.’