The Blues travel to Southampton for Saturday’s match before facing Manchester United in the FA Cup 48 hours later. They also entertain Rubin Kazan on Thursday for their Europa League encounter, before rounding off their tough schedule against Sunderland at home next weekend.
Their squad is set to be tested to its limits and Benitez is heavily expected to rotate his players to keep them fresh for the season’s run-in. They play an astonishing 8 games in April, and if they progress further in the cup competitions, that fixture list could really get arduous. In fact, the Blues have already racked up 53 games and it is no surprise that Benitez has regularly shuffled his pack.
Chelsea still have a formidable squad, even though they have the likes of Essien, Lukaku, De Bruyne and Bruma out on loan. However, one has to acknowledge that they are thread-bare in attack with only Torres and Ba serving as out-and-out strikers, but Benitez’s formation allows him to use only one striker, and as such, he frequently alternates between the two.
They are loaded in their star-studded midfield department, but lose their creative spark when Hazard and Mata are rested. Players like Oscar and Ramires have also been impressive and even Lampard has scored a lot of vital goals. But Ramires picked up a knock during international duty and is a doubt for Southampton.
Their main headache would be in defence, as the Blues have been dealt a double blow, with Cahill and Terry both out. That leaves only Ivanovic as the lone centre-back, although Benitez could deploy Luiz back in central defence rather in his holding midfield role.
However, mental and physical fatigue is bound to come into picture and Chelsea fans hope that all three – Ramires, Cahill and Terry – return to action as soon as possible.
Benitez has acknowledged that he won’t be able to play the same team for all four fixtures and gave an update on his squad. He told the club’s official website, “The players that were playing with their national teams are fine, Cahill and Rami are working with the physios, but the rest of the squad are okay. We still have a couple of days, we will see, they had a special training session with the physios today, they could be available but it will be close.”
“He’s [Terry] been training with us and doing well so I’m very pleased with his evolution. He’s training every day and improving his fitness. It’s just a question of how many games you can play, not just for John, but for everyone. We will play four games in nine days, none of the players can play in all of those games and be 100 per cent fit.”