After securing our place in the semi-finals of the Europa League, tomorrow sees us take on Manchester City at Wembley with a place in the FA Cup final at stake, and Rafael Benitez has urged his side to finish the season strongly on three fronts.
The game against Roberto Mancini’s in-form side – our 58th of the campaign thus far – is likely to see the Blues boss make a number of changes to personnel following our midweek exertions in Russia against Rubin Kazan.
Having freshened things up in Moscow by utilising the full depth of his squad, handing rare starts to both Paulo Ferreira and Nathan Ake, Benitez acknowledged rotation is the only way to deal with such a hectic period.
‘We know where we are at the moment,’ said the Spaniard. ‘We are in the semi-final of the FA Cup, another one in the Europa League and third in the league table. They will have a bit of an advantage but hopefully we will have some fresh legs for the game.
‘It’s always different if you play two games a week and you have players that are injured or tired, it’s more difficult. We knew that if we were successful we’d have to play more games, and we want to keep playing games until the end.
‘We still have a lot of games, but we have to manage, that’s why we can play players like Ake or Ferreira. If we can manage and use the squad it will be fantastic.’
Tomorrow’s match pits us against a side who are fresh from an away win at Manchester United and have played 15 fewer matches than us over the course of the season.
Both teams are often hailed for the quality of players at their disposal, and while Benitez doesn’t disagree, he cited one major difference between his squad and the current Premier League champions.
‘They have a strong squad, very good players on the pitch and very good players on the bench,’ he explained.
‘People talk about Chelsea and how we can pick two teams that will be the same, but we know it’s a young team. If you look at City, they have players available in every position who know their job, they have talent and experience.
‘The problem is they have so many options; they can play [Carlos] Tevez, [Sergio] Aguero, [Edin] Dzeko or even Yaya Toure higher up, also in wide areas they can play [Samir] Nasri or [James] Milner.
‘We will play against a very good team on Sunday with a good manager, and it will be tough for us.’
Benitez also explained the difficulties a manager faces when choosing his side, particularly for the big matches.
‘Every game you want to win and you have to take risks when you make decisions,’ said Benitez.
‘You might want to play a certain player, but if it goes well it’s down to the rotation policy and if it doesn’t you’ve made a mistake. At the moment we are doing fine, and hopefully we can go until the end.
‘It’s something you have to do and you have to explain to them that they have to be on their toes and they need to be ready. It’s the only way if you want to compete in every competition and succeed.
‘Some players always want to play, and others, if they know they have a big came coming up, are happy to be rested.
‘I always say it depends on positions, because in certain positions you can cope with the intensity, but other players can’t cope with two games in a row.’
There is much to be admired about our recent FA Cup record, with four triumphs since 2007 and the Blues unbeaten in the competition in normal time since a 2008 defeat away at Barnsley.
Many argue against the idea of the semi-finals being held at Wembley. Benitez, though, is simply happy to be involved, and is hopeful his side can maintain our recent run of form.
‘I don’t have a problem with it but it doesn’t matter what I think,’ said the Spaniard. ‘The stadium doesn’t matter, what matters is that we are in the semi-final.
‘Chelsea won it last year, so we know what an important competition it is for the club and for everybody in England.
‘If we finish in the top three and win one or both of the competitions we will be really pleased and proud.’