BENITEZ: READY AND FOCUSED
The Blues face a huge London derby tomorrow when we make the short trip to take on Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The game is the first of two successive away matches, with Liverpool at Anfield to come on Sunday, and with the race to finish in the top four gathering momentum, Rafael Benitez knows there is little margin for error.
On squad news
The big matches keep on coming, with the Spaniard, who celebrates his 53rd birthday today, expected to rotate his squad once more in a bid to maintain freshness.
Those players who didn't feature in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Wembley will be confident of being involved, but for two players, as Benitez explained, the game comes too soon.
'Marko Marin had a little problem but has been training today. He had a problem with his thigh but it's nothing serious.'
On facing Fulham
The Blues haven't tasted defeat at the hands of the Cottagers since a 1-0 reverse back in 2006, but Martin Jol's side have won their last two home matches, while also securing a big win away at Tottenham Hotspur in recent weeks.
The corresponding fixture at Stamford Bridge back in November - Benitez's second game at the helm - ended goalless, and the Blues boss is anticipating another tight affair.
'Fulham are a very good team, you can see the level they've been at in the Premier League for a while. Derbies are different, anything can happen but hopefully we can do well and keep history with us.'
In other news
Sunday's elimination from the FA Cup leaves us fighting on two fronts between now and the end of the campaign.
Benitez was understandably frustrated with our Wembley exit at the hands of Manchester City, but was eager to look for the positives.
'After the game and on the day after we were really disappointed and a bit sad as were very close, but it's now the day before the Fulham match and we are ready, focused , and thinking about this game,' he said.
'We wanted to go to the final like we do in the Europa League, but we have to keep an eye on the Premier League. We now have one less competition, we lost against a good team, but we did well and in the second half deserved to score another goal.
'Every game is important until the end of the season, if we win this one we'll be in the top three again so we know we have to be ready, get three points and prepare for the next challenge on Sunday.'
Our 4-0 win at Stoke City back in the middle of January was the last time we secured three points on the road, and with trips to Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa still to come, Benitez acknowledged the importance of reversing our fortunes on our travels.
'It was quite good before, we improved our home form and now have to improve away. We haven't played that many away.
'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.'
With two games a week to play between now and the climax of the season, Benitez will continue to rotate players in order to maximise performance levels at a crucial time.
Whether or not David Luiz features at Fulham remains to be seen, but the Brazilian's maturity and assured displays of late have impressed the manager.
'David Luiz is an important player and is doing well, but there are a lot of them. I don't want to give too much credit to him and not to the others, but he's a key player for us and will be a key player in the future.
'We have had a lot of games and still have another nine or 10 to play. 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.'