BENITEZ: PLENTY TO PLAY FOR
Rafael Benitez has called on his players to show greater levels of consistency ahead of tonight's Barclays Premier League game at Reading.
Following two successive cup ties, both of which ended in draws, we head to the Madejski Stadium to take on a side with much to play for, and Benitez is hopeful his side can take inspiration from the first-half performance which set us on our way to a 2-1 win over Arsenal in our last league encounter.
'If you talk about the last 10 days, we had a fantastic game against Arsenal, a game against Swansea which wasn't so good and then Brentford which was 50-50,' said the Blues manager. 'We know we have to improve, but we are still in the FA Cup, still in the Europa League and we can still finish in the top four, or maybe more, you never know.
'We have to concentrate on our job. I was talking today with Frank [Lampard], John [Terry] and David Luiz. We were just talking about football. They know the way to change things is to win, we were winning nine days ago and we have to get back to doing that.
'I have a lot of confidence in the team. We have good players, they are training well and it's a question of keeping the consistency.'
Sunday's draw at Brentford means we now face yet another fixture in what was already a packed schedule, and with John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses currently away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, and both David Luiz and Petr Cech joining Oriol Romeu on the injured list, we are running low on numbers.
Benitez, somewhat understandably, is looking forward to the return of key players at a crucial time, but on a more positive note, is able to call on the services of a player who hasn't featured for the Blues since the opening day of last season.
'We have Mikel and Moses to come back, while [Yossi] Benayoun is now another option,' he explained.
'Benayoun is training with the team and is part of the squad. He was out on loan and then came back, but he had an injury. He's been working with the physios, he was available for the FA Cup game on Sunday and he will be available for tonight's game as well.
'We have [Eden] Hazard and [Victor] Moses out. Lucas Piazon is a young player and he plays in the same position as Oscar and [Juan] Mata, so he's gone on loan. Yossi can play in wide areas and he can help us, I know all about his game intelligence so there's no doubt he can give us something.'
With the good results of late being tempered by those against the likes of Queens Park Rangers, Swansea and Southampton, the team have unsurprisingly found themselves under increased scrutiny.
The manager, however, who is still only a couple of months into his reign, has seen more than enough from his players, both in training and matches, to suggest that the last four months of the season could yet prove to be a successful time.
'We have to win together, that's important, but I'm really pleased with the players in terms of the atmosphere inside,' said the Spaniard. 'We have players who, whether they are playing or not, are pushing and the effort is there.
'I cannot control the perception from outside, but what I can do is influence the players in the way I explain things, the way we analyse things and the way we prepare for games.
'Sometimes Mata has been tired, but he is still doing well, Oscar is adapting to a new league and different positions, so everybody is trying to do their best and that's the main thing for me.
'I treat my players with respect. I like to listen to them, they are players with experience in football and they give me their feedback in the same way.
'I have been in this job for 26 years, you have good moments and bad moments, but the way to change things is to work hard.'