Rafael Benitez vowed to play a strong side in Chelsea’s Club World Cup semi-final against Mexican side Monterrey this morning (10.30am), despite admitting his players were still suffering with jet lag.
With Chelsea also in the midst of a punishing schedule and facing injury problems in key positions, Benitez could be forgiven for resting several of his stars in Japan today.
But the Spaniard was determined to field as strong a line-up as possible for the game at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.
“I intend to win,” said Benitez. “I’ll pick players to win the first game. You cannot think about the final until you’ve won the semi-final.”
Benitez, who is managing at the competition for the third time, added: “My experience in this tournament is to assess them the day before, see how they feel and you can see some players are fresher than others. I don’t have an idea now as to who I will play.”
Benitez admitted his players had found it tough adjusting to the time difference, joking that his and Chelsea’s main focus was “to try to sleep more than four hours”.
He added: “We’ve tried to adapt to the time, the pitch, the ball — everything. It’s all a bit new, but we’ve done everything we have to do.”
The new ball contains a microchip for the GoalRef goalline technology, which makes its debut in a competitive match today.
Owner Roman Abramovich is reportedly treating this competition very seriously also, but Benitez made light of the pressure on him from above, joking: “I’m not considering playing Abramovich at centre-forward.
“I’d prefer Fernando Torres or another one.”
Torres arrived in Japan having scored four goals in two matches following his latest lengthy drought.
Benitez said: “I would like to see Fernando playing well every game and scoring goals, but it’s not just the manager. I can speak with him in Spanish and say what I know, but the main thing is the team are creating more chances.
“The players have good mentality and, if they create more chances, a striker will score more goals if he’s in the right place.”
Oriol Romeu’s season-ending injury has left Chelsea short of holding midfielders, with their only other recognised player in that position, John Obi Mikel, on African Nations Cup duty next month.
The Blues have been linked with the likes of Corinthians’ Paulinho, Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote and Everton’s Marouane Fellaini.
Benitez said: “The club is working and always looking for good players, so we’ll see if there are any surprises.”
Meanwhile Watford head coach Gianfranco Zola has distanced himself from stories linking him with a move away from the club.
Reports yesterday suggested the Italian was hoping to one day manage Chelsea but Zola was left fuming and stressed his committed to the Hornets.
“I don’t like it at all. I’m not using Watford as a promotion for myself. I care massively what happens here, and I am trying things in the best way possible.”
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