Saturday’s game at Aston Villa sees the Blues needing a win to secure qualification to next season’s Champions League, and Rafael Benitez believes our progression in the Europa League has played a part in galvanising the squad in recent weeks as we fight on two fronts.
Last night’s 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge maintained our three-point advantage over Andre Villas-Boas’s side, and with a far superior goal difference, a win at Villa Park, with only one game left to play, would make it virtually impossible for us to be pegged back.
‘I think it [the Europa League] has been important for us, to keep everyone on their toes and ready to play, so it’s been positive in the end,’ Benitez said.
‘All of the games are important but the main one will be Aston Villa. It was a pity last night because I felt we could win the game, but we will have to do it now against Villa and try to get in the top three.
‘We know it’s really important but at the same time we know we have to win one game. If we can win against Villa it will be easier to approach the final with confidence.’
With Paul Lambert’s side in good form, and battling to preserve their Premier League status, there is little doubt it will take a huge effort to secure a second successive win at Villa Park following last season’s 4-2 triumph.
With Stiliyan Petrov announcing his retirement from the game as he continues his personal fight against acute leukaemia, we look set to face an emotionally charged atmosphere inside the stadium, while if the home side need any extra incentive, the 8-0 mauling they suffered at the Bridge back in December is still likely to linger.
‘The main thing is he [Petrov] is fine, that’s good for everyone and everybody will be happier,’ said Benitez.
‘They have enough motivation, although for some it will be more. For us we have our own motivation and we will try to do our job.
‘I don’t think it matters what happened in the game at Stamford Bridge, they want to win, they need to win. We’ve seen their last few games, they are doing well and it will be tough because they want to stay in the Premier League.’
With three crucial games left to play this season, Benitez will understandably continue with the rotation policy which has served us so well of late.
Frank Lampard, having featured in the previous three matches, was an unused substitute against Tottenham, but with the Blues midfielder only one goal away from equalling Bobby Tambling’s club record, the Spaniard confirmed he will be involved against Aston Villa, although he refused to be drawn on team selection ahead of the Benfica clash.
‘I have confidence that he will do it,’ Benitez stated. ‘He will play at least one more game and we will wait to see what happens in the other two.
‘Frank is a great professional, a very good player. I am really pleased with him because he is training very well every day and his fitness is quite good.
‘He will play against Aston Villa and I cannot say anything about the final. We have to play another game and after I will decide the team for the final.
‘I will do what I can to win games and at the same time if I can help Frank I will do it.’
The Blues boss reported a few injury concerns ahead of the game, with Eden Hazard one of the players who will need to be assessed after coming off early last night, and Benitez was keen to praise the Belgian’s recent contribution.
‘Victor Moses has been limping, Ryan Bertrand is still not available and [John] Mikel Obi was training today, which is good news,’ explained the Blues boss. ‘Of the players who played last night, Hazard is the only concern so we will need to keep an eye on him.
‘Hazard, like Oscar, is a young player who needs to settle in the Premier League. He’s doing very well and I think he will be even better next year.’
On a personal note, Benitez is approaching his final few games at the helm, and there remains a fantastic opportunity to end the season on a high.
‘To win a trophy is important for any manager, but to finish in the top four is also important,’ he said. ‘It’s been a difficult season due to different circumstances, but we are pleased where we are and hopefully we can be happy at the end,’ he said.