With spirits in the squad good after the cup win over Manchester United, Rafael Benitez is convinced Chelsea can compete on three fronts throughout the remainder of the season.
First up is the start of our Europa League quarter-final tie against Rubin Kazan tomorrow, with a domestic league game against Sunderland before the return leg in Moscow.
Benitez will be without Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole as well as long-term absentee Oriol Romeu for the Europa League home leg but he reports no new injuries. The estimate on Cole’s recovery from a hamstring injury suffered on Monday remains around two weeks.
‘We proved against Manchester United that in a game against a team top of the table and the one that has won the most trophies in England that we can compete,’ said Benitez after Wednesday’s final training session before the Europa League game.
‘When you play one game every two days you have to try it a different way but I am happy with what we are doing at the moment. It was an important game for us, we won it and we did really well against United and that means we have this level and we can do it.
‘We are capable of competing and winning in every competition. The players have to be ready, mentally and physically, and they know how important it is to win every game, how important it is to win trophies and finish in the top three.
‘The Europa League is a competition in which you will have two or three of the best sides in Europe and to win against European teams with a lot of good players and experience is something you have to consider really positive. Obviously it is best to compete in the Champions League but if you cannot that is what you have to do, beat the team that is in front of you.’
Ryan Bertrand came on for Cole in the Man United game and is the most likely to play left-back against Rubin.
‘He understands his role clearly,’ said Benitez about the 23-year-old, ‘and the way to move forward and the way to improve is to work hard, try to learn from the people with more experience and just be ready. If he can do this, he will improve for sure.’
Our Russian opposition’s knockout stage victories over Europa League holders Atletico Madrid and Levante leave no one in doubt they are serious contenders and Benitez described their threat.
‘They are a well-organised team, they are comfortable defending and playing counter-attack so they can score goals away.
‘They will try to do that and against good Spanish teams they did very well and they beat both so they know what to do. They have pace in attack, ability in the wide areas, good passers in the middle and strong defenders, so it is a team with good balance.
‘I can’t see a big difference between playing home or away but in this case I prefer to play at home because we have so many games at the moment, to go to Moscow could have been another problem.
‘It will be tough and it will be important to score and play well tomorrow but if we cannot, in the second leg we can score goals.’