Benitez refuses to rule out title shot

Rafael Benitez is refusing to dismiss Chelsea’s hopes of winning the Barclays Premier League title despite the sizeable gap between themselves and leaders Manchester United.

Rafael Benitez is refusing to dismiss Chelsea’s hopes of winning the Barclays Premier League title despite the sizeable gap between themselves and leaders Manchester United.

Chelsea moved into third place following Sunday’s 8-0 demolition of Aston Villa and have now won five of their last six games in all competitions ahead of their Boxing Day trip to Norwich.

The Blues ran riot at Stamford Bridge with seven different players getting on the scoresheet – a Premier League first – and it would have been more but for a missed Lucas Piazon penalty.

The win came on the back of a convincing 5-1 win over rivals Leeds in the Capital One Cup and went some way to quietening the boos directed towards Benitez, with the furore over his appointment starting to die down.

Chelsea are still some way behind United in the title race, trailing by 11 points, but Benitez is not ruling anything out.

Asked if he will tell his players they can still win the league, Benitez said: “We will see after two or three more games.

“You could see the team had confidence in themselves, they believed, and that was there to the end.

“They had good movements, created chances. Now we have to sustain this run and it will be easier for me to say we can compete.”

The Spaniard, who has been an unpopular figure at Stamford Bridge since he was brought in as interim manager on November 21, seems to have revitalised Blues frontman Fernando Torres – who he also managed at Liverpool – with the striker scoring seven times in his last six games.

“The players were really focused from day one,” Benitez said.

“They knew they had a new manager and they had to perform.

“The players, from day one, were trying to learn, to improve and they were keen to learn.”

Another player who looks to be developing under the leadership of Spaniard is David Luiz, who has been switched from defence into central midfield – a decision which saw the Brazilian produce a nonchalant but vibrant display against Villa.

Capped off with a spectacular goal from a technically difficult free-kick, the re-deployment of Luiz looks to be a triumph for Benitez in reshaping Chelsea’s attack in a position where they have sometimes struggled to fully impose themselves.

Benitez confirmed the 25-year-old could find himself playing further up the pitch on a more regular basis following yesterday’s performance.

He said: “We will analyse it carefully. Maybe, if he can relax, he can play more games in this position because it’s easier for him to rest here.”

Frank Lampard, who made his 500th Premier League start against Villa and became the Blues’ all-time top scorer thanks to his second-half strike, hailed Luiz’s talent and thinks he can be a success in both defence and midfield.

Lampard told “He has the ability to play either position and he has been a fantastic defender at this club.

“People say that central midfield is also a role for him and I think they are right.

“You still have to have discipline and be in the right position and you can’t take liberties, and against Villa he showed that he has the discipline and the ability to do that role.”

However, there is still some bad news for Chelsea, as the return date for injured club captain John Terry is still to be confirmed as he recovers from a knee injury.

Terry was originally aiming to be fit to for the Club World Cup earlier this month but setbacks have seen him remain on the sidelines.

Benitez said: “Two days ago it was one little step backwards, but now one step forwards. We cannot say when he’ll be available.

“The doctors say it’s difficult with an inflammation. The next two or three days, he won’t be available, that is clear. He just did the warm-up with the team the other day. I don’t know how long (he will be out).”

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