Blues 'coping with fixture pile-up'

Rafael Benitez is confident his Chelsea side can cope with their hectic fixture pile-up and progress to two cup finals.

Last Updated: 12/04/13 at 16:18 Post Comment

Rafa Benitez: Confident Chelsea can handle fixture congestion

Rafa Benitez: Confident Chelsea can handle fixture congestion

The Chelsea interim boss saw his side drawn against Tottenham's conquerors Basle in the semi-finals of the Europa League after edging past Rubin Kazan 5-4 on aggregate following a 3-2 defeat in Moscow on Thursday night.

Benitez immediately turned his thoughts to Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Wembley.

If Chelsea can beat City it means a cup double remains up for grabs for Benitez, despite the criticism he has received from certain quarters of the Stamford Bridge faithful since taking over as interim boss in November.

Benitez, whose side were immediately installed as favourites for the Europa League after avoiding a long trip to Fenerbahce or a tricky tie against Benfica, said: "All of them (the Europa semi-finalists) are good teams. We were thinking which might be the best for us, in terms of the fixtures we have.

"Basle is not too far away so maybe it's not a bad option, only because of that."

He insisted, however, that Chelsea would not underestimate the Swiss champions.

"They're a good team, an offensive team, and will be dangerous as well," Benitez said.

"We saw what they did to Tottenham. We know there's a great atmosphere in their stadium and they play with intensity. I think it will be interesting."

Sunday's match against a City side who have not conceded a goal in this season's FA Cup will be Chelsea's sixth game in 16 days.

But while Benitez concedes City have the benefit of having rested while his players were travelling to Moscow, the Chelsea boss believes his team are maturing rapidly.

City beat Chelsea 2-0 in February at Eastlands, with Frank Lampard missing a penalty, but Benitez believes his team have learned from the experience.

Benitez said: "They're a good team in a good position in the table, and did well against Manchester United the other day. We know it'll be difficult but it's a semi-final in a massive competition.

"We know what we did wrong against them in the league and we'll make sure we don't make the same mistakes.

"They're a good team, a strong squad. They have a manager with experience and they have confidence at the moment. We know we'll have to do our best if we want to progress."

Benitez will rotate his squad for Wembley and striker Demba Ba has recovered from the ankle injury he suffered against Sunderland last weekend while defender Ryan Bertrand is also fit again after suffering an illness.

Ashley Cole (hamstring) and Gary Cahill (knee), however, remain unavailable.

Benitez, who will be taking a side to Wembley for the first time after winning the FA Cup with Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium in 2006, believes City could have the physical edge.

He said: "It's always an advantage(to have rested while Chelsea travelled). I don't know how much.

"We've tried to manage our squad and we have players with some fresh legs. Hopefully we will be fine. We have too many games and we have to use the squad. Everyone has to be on their toes.

"They are doing really well. I was praising them yesterday and today. You could see last night (Paolo) Ferreira had to play at left-back and he'd not played for a while. (Nathan) Ake is a young player. (Victor) Moses and Yossi (Benayoun) were working hard. They did really well."

While Benitez refused to get ahead of himself with his side on the cusp of two cup finals, he added: "In terms of two semi-finals and still in the top three (in the Premier League) we're really pleased.

"It's a young squad with new players coming into the Premier League. We still need more experience, but that's getting better.

"It's still too early. We will see what happens at the end of the season, but top three, another semi-final. Not bad."


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