SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Rafael Benitez insists Chelsea can still claim second place in the Premier League ahead of a trip to Southampton on Saturday that marks the start of a testing run of fixtures for the Blues.
Benitez’s third placed side will attempt to increase the pressure on Manchester City, who sit five points ahead in second spot, with victory over the relegation-threatened Saints at St Mary’s.
That marks the first of six games in a 16-day period for Chelsea, with the FA Cup sixth round replay against Manchester United next up just 48 hours later.
The programme will test Benitez’s squad to the limit but the Spaniard said: “It is better to have this problem than be at home watching it on the television.
“It is better to have this schedule because it means you are still competing.
“With a top side, the last month in the season is when you fight for trophies. We are still there and it is a positive.
“At this stage of the competition, you have to win games and then you can win trophies. It has to be now, in this period.”
Chelsea moved one point ahead of Tottenham in the last round of fixtures before the international break, with Arsenal another four points adrift in fifth place.
The battle for a Champions League place is set to intensify in the coming weeks but while Benitez recognises the threat of the two north London clubs, he maintains his focus is fixed on City.
“I would like to see if we can reduce the gap or think like this, but I’m sure they will be concerned like we are concerned about Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton,” Benitez said.
“In recent weeks we have been training very well and we were competing really well and the team was playing very good football.
“So if you can keep all these things and this momentum, I will not be worried about the other teams. I will be just watching Manchester City.”
Chelsea’s England defender Gary Cahill is struggling with the knee injury that forced him to withdraw from international duty, while Brazil midfielder Ramires has a groin problem.
Chelsea will face a Southampton side lifted by victory over Liverpool last time out, only their second victory since Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins as manager.
The other win came against Manchester City but Pochettino denies his side have been guilty of failing to match those standards against their relegation rivals.
“If you look at the victories we got against Manchester City and Liverpool it might look like we raise our game against those games,” he said.
“But I don’t think that is the case because we played well against Wigan and Norwich, but perhaps weren’t lucky enough to get the three points in those games.
“We had a very good result against Liverpool and when you get a result like that you want to carry on playing games trying to get more results like that.”
Southampton lost successive games after beating City, and midfielder Jack Cork admits the four-point cushion to the relegation places could begin to look less secure if they suffer a similar slip this time.
“We had such a good result against Manchester City and then QPR came here and we lost. That’s keeping us on our toes,” Cork said.
“We’re in a great situation at the minute, but we need to make sure we don’t think anything is done just yet.
“We have to make sure we try to win as many games as we can.”
Channel News Asia