RAFAEL Benitez has vowed to put out a strong side in Chelsea’s Club World Cup semi-final against Monterrey, despite admitting his players were still suffering from jet lag.
The European champions arrived in Japan five days ago, but are still struggling to adapt to the nine-hour time difference ahead of today’s clash with their CONCACAF counterparts.
With Chelsea also in the midst of a punishing schedule of fixtures and facing injury problems in key positions, interim manager Benitez could be forgiven for resting several of his stars against a side that should be beaten in any event.
The Spaniard, however, was determined to field as strong a line-up as possible at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. Asked whether he would play a team of youngsters this morning, he said: “No, I intend to win.
“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 of his squad: “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.”
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.
Chelsea should not need a “ghost goal” to beat Monterrey, despite the Mexicans already improving on their fifth place at last year’s tournament.
Benitez confirmed he had watched videos of their opponents, but betrayed the difficulty of knowing them inside out when he referred to several of their dangermen by number instead of name.
He also reiterated the importance of Chelsea winning the Club World Cup, which he failed to do with Liverpool in 2005 but managed with Inter Milan two years ago.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson dubbed Benitez “lucky” to have been given the chance to pick it up again after the Spaniard was parachuted in to replace Roberto Di Matteo last month.
Reminded of the jibe, Benitez said: “The first thing is to beat Monterrey if we want to be in the final. If we win, maybe we’ll deserve to win.”
That would be the minimum requirement from club owner Roman Abramovich, who is reportedly treating this competition very seriously indeed, 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 long 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.”
Chelsea are reportedly in the market for a new forward in the January transfer window, having been touted for a move for Radamel Falcao among others.
Oriol Romeu’s season-ending injury has also left them short of holding midfielders, with their only other recognised player in that position, John Obi Mikel, on African Nations Cup duty next month.
Chelsea 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.”
Benitez admitted the seriousness of Romeu’s injury, which he suffered in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League win at Sunderland, had taken Chelsea by surprise. “Oriol Romeu was bad news and we weren’t expecting something so serious,” he said.
“He’ll be fine for the future, he’s a young player.”