‘They’re even blaming me for fixture congestion’ - Benitez lashes out at critics again
CHELSEA interim manager Rafael Benitez today issued another veiled attack on his critics on the eve of the Europa League last-16 second leg with Steaua Bucharest.
Last season's Champions League winners will tomorrow bid to keep their European adventure alive by over-turning a 1-0 deficit in their clash with the Romanian league leaders at Stamford Bridge.
Progress for the Blues, coupled with the FA Cup quarter-final replay with Manchester United on Easter Monday, April 1, would result in a fixture headache especially given the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final would be three days later.
Responding to questions on fixture congestion, Benitez implied some people would suggest it is his fault.
Benitez said: "I can do nothing about that. I just concentrate on my job and try to do my best, preparing the team for every competition.
"Maybe someone else will blame me. Some people always say that it's my fault, that everything is my fault."
Asked how he could be blamed for the calendar, Benitez said: "You are clever enough to realise that I was joking.
"If something is wrong they want to blame me. But I have to manage this too."
He did not make clear who "they" are, but, due to his prior association with Liverpool, Benitez has never been popular at Stamford Bridge, where he has been regularly booed.
Following the FA Cup fifth-round win at Middlesbrough, the Spaniard railed against his critics, telling the supporters to use their energies to back the team, rather than barrack him, as his contract ends in May.
The schedule of fixtures means Benitez will have to rotate his squad.
Asked about the challenges of selection with games every four, three, or possibly, every two days, Benitez suggested he expects further reprisals.
"You have to analyse every single thing and you will decide what to do and still someone will criticise you," he said.
"If you lose a game, it's 'oh, he picked the wrong player' or whatever.
"It's quite difficult, but each team is different and it depends on the players that you have, the positions and the congestion."
Benitez insists Chelsea have the squad to deal with matches every few days.
"What I have to do is to pick the team for each game and be sure it's a very competitive team for each competition," he said.
Benitez's critics appeared to have further ammunition, if it were required, 11 minutes into last Sunday's quarter-final with Manchester United at Old Trafford.
However, the Blues overturned the 2-0 deficit to force a replay - the date of which is still to be determined - and keep the defence of the FA Cup trophy alive.
Benitez hopes his side can carry momentum from that second-half display into tomorrow's match and Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash with West Ham.
"It's important for us to show against a top side like United that we can do it," he said.
"We did it before against other teams, but doing it at Old Trafford, against United, shows that we can do it and hopefully we can keep the momentum."
It is possible, out of the ashes of a tumultuous season, Chelsea could finish with two trophies and Champions League qualification.
Rather than look too far ahead and prioritise one competition over another, Benitez's focus is on the immediate task in hand.
He hopes his players will follow his lead.
"I will try to lead by example, so I will concentrate on the next game," he said. "That is what I have to do, to make sure we compete in every single competition. The first one will be tomorrow."
Cesar Azpilicueta clearly agrees with his manager's approach and does not wish to prioritise one competition over another.
"We have the squad to play in all the competitions," the Spain right-back said.
"We want to win trophies. Now we have three objectives. This is the next one, to carry on in the Europa League.
"We want to win every trophy. It's an objective and we're not going to sacrifice any competition."
Chelsea began the season in contention for seven trophies - the Europa League is an unexpected eighth - with the Super Cup in Monaco and the Club World Cup in Japan part of the journey.
Azpilicueta believes more matches is a by-product of success.
"We are professional and we're playing a lot of games - the longest season in the history of the club," Azpilicueta added.
"We work for that and the most important now is the last month (of the season) and to decide the trophies.
"Physically it's possible and mentally we have the capacity to do it."