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Benitez laughs off Wilkins as April Fool

CHELSEA interim manager Rafael Benitez remains the subject for repeated criticism, with Ray Wilkins the latest to comment on Benitez's team selection.

Ashley Cole suffered a hamstring injury against Manchester United and former Chelsea captain, assistant boss and caretaker coach Wilkins believes the left-back would not have done so had he played against Southampton two days earlier. Benitez dismissed the 'April Fools' Day' comments.

Benitez said: "I have a degree in sports science from Spain.

"It's the first time ever I've heard something like this. April 1."

Cole and his fellow England defender Gary Cahill (knee) face absences of two to three weeks, meaning the duo are likely to miss tonight's clash with Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge, the return leg in Moscow and are major doubts for the Wembley FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City a week on Sunday.

Chelsea lost in the Premier League to Southampton last Saturday, loosening their grip on the Champions League qualifying place, after Benitez fielded a much-changed side, resulting in criticism of his team selection.

Seven changes were made against United less than 48 hours later and with Cole out and Demba Ba ineligible, Benitez will make at least two changes and probably more against Rubin Kazan tomorrow.

Captain John Terry and midfielder Frank Lampard – both unused substitutes against United – could start, but Sunderland's visit on Sunday in the Premier League may also be on Benitez's mind.

On the eve of the Europa League encounter, a Russian reporter asked Benitez why he picked a weakened team against United.

The Spaniard responded, jovially, but also pointedly, after his team selection on the south coast had been questioned in the British media.

Benitez was more serious when questioned over whether the players understand the necessity for squad rotation, with characters such as Terry keen to play in every game.

"I have to pick a team that can win any game," Benitez said.

"You have to approach the next game like the most important game."

Rubin Kazan's record in Europe this term is formidable, drawing with and beating Benitez's former team Inter Milan in the group stages of the competition and eliminating Europa League holders Atletico Madrid courtesy of a 2-0 win in Spain.


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