BENITEZ: CLOSING THE GAP
The big matches just keep on coming, and after three successive cup games, the Blues return to Premier League action this weekend with a trip to face Manchester City.
Rafael Benitez acknowledged the size of the task, but remains confident his side can secure the win which would take us to within a point of Roberto Mancini's team...
Demba Ba was unavailable for the game having represented Newcastle United earlier in the competition, and the manager is looking forward to welcoming the trio back for Sunday's game.
'At the moment we have some knocks, normal things, but hopefully it's nothing serious,' he explained. 'We will have to see how they are tomorrow, but it shouldn't be anything which stops them from playing on Sunday.
'When we were thinking about using different players because we wanted to rest some of them, it was a good opportunity to use others but also keep the quality on the pitch.
'Apart from Oriol Romeu, who is a long-term absentee, I hope to have all the other players available. I rested some players against Sparta, so hopefully the players I use on Sunday will be fine.'
On facing Manchester City
With only four points separating the two teams going into the game, whichever side comes out on top will lay down a marker for the remainder of the campaign.
Mancini's side have struggled to reproduce the type of form which saw them crowned champions at the end of last season, but with a squad littered with quality, Benitez knows his side will need to perform to our maximum if we are to win at the Etihad Stadium for the first time since 2008.
He also reflected on the corresponding fixture back in November - his first game in charge of the Blues - which ended goalless.
'I think City are a great team. In the last few years they have improved and spent some money. They have a great team, a great manager, and there is a positive atmosphere around the team and the club, which means it will be difficult to beat them. They don't lose too many points at home and they are very strong.
'Three months isn't long but with the number of games we've played it feels like a long time. It was too early, you want to train with your team and prepare properly but we didn't have time.
'I'd just arrived and it was a big game. It was one of the games where we didn't actually create too many chances, and the match was very balanced.
'We have had a lot of clean sheets and we continue to score goals. We were strong in defence but didn't create many chances, now we have a lot of chances and we are conceding less goals. The balance is there and we are improving.
'The priority is to win this game, if we win this game we will be closer. If not, we have to keep on fighting.'
In other news
Having been without a midweek fixture, it's fair to suggest the home side will go into Sunday's game the fresher of the two teams.
Having played so many matches this season, it's something we've grown accustomed to, but as Benitez explained, it doesn't make forward planning any easier.
'If you play twice a week it's not easy to prepare. Today, for example, we were doing tactical work with six or seven players, some of them younger ones, so it's not easy to prepare for every game in the way you would like.
'The difference is some teams have more time to prepare. Sparta had over a month to prepare for our game against them. We have played on average nine games a month, which is more than any team in Europe.'
With Chelsea and City sitting in third and second place respectively, talk, somewhat inevitably, has centred around which side will be able to apply some pressure on table-toppers Manchester United as the season enters the home straight.
Benitez, however, feels the teams currently below us in the table will still have a big say in the final standings.
'The race for the top four will go until the end of the season. Our last game is against Everton, so I'm sure between now and then it will be very close.
'We still have to play against Tottenham and Everton, one game can make a big difference so if you drop points it makes it difficult.'