Rafa Benitez to continue rotating Chelsea lineup
Rafa Benitez will continue to rotate his Chelsea players as they bid to deal with a fixture pile-up and rebound from two consecutive defeats, the club's interim manager said on Tuesday.
The Spaniard left out senior players John Terry and Frank Lampard for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat by Manchester City but says he will stick to his guns amid growing pressure to retain a settled side for their remaining matches this season.
"We have had a lot of games and still have another nine or 10 to play," Benitez told reporters.
"All the players are important and will be important until the end. We have to manage the squad and we will do it until the end.
"Managing the squad is part of our job and you can see that still we have some legs and determination to win games."
Sunday's clash was Chelsea's sixth in 16 days and they are set for a busy run-in with seven Premier League games remaining and a two-legged Europa League semi-final against Swiss club Basel also still to play.
Benitez's men visit west London neighbours Fulham on Wednesday with the fight for a top-four Premier League finish and Champions League qualification poised to go to the wire.
Chelsea are fourth in the table, level on points with Tottenham Hotspur in fifth and dark horses Everton lurking three points further adrift in sixth.
The European champions, who have now lost back-to-back games after slipping to defeat in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Rubin Kazan last week, will be hoping to improve on poor away form.
Chelsea are without a win in the Premier League away from Stamford Bridge since beating Stoke City in the middle of January, a reversal on Benitez's early fortunes when the team struggled for form at home.
"It was quite good before, we improved our home form and now have to improve away. We haven't played that many away," Benitez added.
"Before we had a lot of games away and not too many at home, now it's changed and we have more games away so we will try to improve."
Terry, Lampard and Fernando Torres are all in line for a midweek recall but long-term injury absentees Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill are not yet ready to return.
"Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill are progressing and doing well but they won't be ready for this game," Benitez said.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech, who became the club's seventh highest appearance maker when he played his 422nd game against Manchester City, says the pressure is on Chelsea following Sunday's defeat.
"For us the disappointment of losing the semi-final against City will be a factor and we need to make sure we are over that," he said on the club website (www.chelseafc.com).
"It's a derby game, a huge game anyway, and if they win they know they are safe from relegation and can then play without pressure. They often raise their game at Craven Cottage especially against us.
"It's a tough fixture for us, it always has been. We never find it easy to play there but the pressure is on us now and we need to win our games to make it easier to qualify for the Champions League," added Cech.