A hectic fixture schedule is not new to Chelsea, but this time around it is different. Rafa Benitez may be blessed with several quality players like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, but four games in just eight days is going to be a test for the smallest squad in the Premier League.
After today’s away trip to Southampton, three home matches against Manchester United, Rubin Kazan, and Sunderland in space of seven days will test the squad to the limits. Priorities go to the window in such a situation, but Chelsea can take heart from the fact that two of the four matches will be against – at least on paper – weaker opposition.
Southampton are still in a relegation battle with just four points separating them from the drop zone. Victories against Manchester City and Liverpool in the last five matches mean that Southampton should not be taken lightly.
On Chelsea’s official site, Benitez has hinted that finishing in the top four is the priority. Hence, we can expect a strong line-up with one or two big names rested for the United match.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]
“We know that to finish in the top places is the key for us for next season, we want to guarantee Champions League football, so hopefully that will be enough motivation for the players.
“The most difficult time will be between the next two games because they are so close, so it will be hard to make sure we have fresh legs for the second game.”[/quote]
The likes of Yossi Benayoun and Marko Marin could start against Southampton, thus saving players like Mata and Hazard for the United match.
Thankfully, Benitez has an almost fully fit squad to choose from, with only Gary Cahill and Ramires struggling with injuries. The Spaniard has confirmed that both these players will be assessed over the next few days.
Demba Ba has scored three goals against Southampton since signing for Chelsea and this may make him a better bet to start at the St Mary’s.
The last time Chelsea rested key players – in the first leg against Steaua Bucuresti – we were abysmal. Let us hope that it is not the case this time around.